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April 19, 2014

Found Money Report 2014

(If you’re interested in previous reports: 2012 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006.)

It’s past time to count the found money bin. This count represents a move back to Massachusetts, and a lot more running in small towns and suburbs, but also a lot more time spent outdoors with children, where you don’t necessarily want to model “pick up this thing you just spotted on the ground and stuff it in your pocket” as good behavior.

Consequently the tally is way down, even for a two-year span: $10.20. I know I’ve left cash on the table — err, sidewalks — that might have gone in here, but I doubt it’s been multiple dollars worth. Maybe I just don’t get out enough.

Highlights:

  • Three one-dollar bills, crisp and folded together. I recall asking a few people if they were theirs, but got no takers, so here they are.
  • 13 quarters, 37 dimes, 16 nickels and 145 pennies. Only the pennies were worth rolling, even combined with other change on hand, the first time that’s happened.
  • I didn’t separate out the Canadian cash this time.
  • 2 10-kopeck coins. Combined with a 50-kopeck I found in my pocket the other day (probably a leftover from my trip to Russia last summer) that buys… practically nothing.
  • Probably even less valuable than the kopecks, a Romanian 5-bani coin. I suspect that was found in an airport on the Russian trip, most likely in Moscow.

And that’s the spare change news for this session.

Posted by pjm at 1:27 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2012

Tally another rodent

Most of my public internet trail recently has been about little girls, and Izzy has not been getting his proper attention.

Therefore, I should announce that this morning he presented for tagging his first mouse of the season. (Mouse hunting season in most of the states he’s lived in runs from September 1 to August 31.) This is his first mouse of his second decade of hunting.

I was thinking about his record today, and unless I’m forgetting some, of the six places we’ve lived with him, he’s caught mice in three, and in a fourth he caught three bats(!) which I count as mice with wings. He also caught a mouse once while visiting A’s parents, so I make his total somewhere around eight non-flying mice and three flying mice.

I have a hunch he’s not done in this house, either.

Posted by pjm at 9:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2012

Found money 2012

(If you’re interested in previous reports: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006.)

As I suggested two years ago, found money has been way down since we moved. So much so that last year I didn’t bother to count the bin. This year’s tally represents two years and is still the lowest since I started: $17.47.

  • Four dollar bills. I don’t remember where I found these, but they were all together, new and crisp and very tightly folded together.
  • 21 quarters ($5.25), 50 dimes, 23 nickels, 207 pennies. Needless to say this is the lowest counts of all of these since I started keeping track.
  • 0.32 CDN (not included in the total), including three dimes. Given that the two-year span included over a week spent in Moncton, this is unsurprising.
  • 5 centavos from Argentina. No idea where this came from.
  • One very unidentified slug with two deep parallel (but off-center) grooves in one otherwise-blank side, and a baseball batter on the other side. Probably a token from some kind of arcade.

I’m still collecting, but I must admit the numbers here are discouraging.

Posted by pjm at 1:25 PM | Comments (0)

January 4, 2012

Big day for a little guy

Today is a big day for our nephew Magnus. He’s had way too many such big days for someone as young as he is, but the kid keeps bobbing back up like a cork. That said, he’s still on our minds.

ETA: Looks good so far.

Posted by pjm at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

May 8, 2011

Hands full

The reason you aren’t seeing so much here recently is that A and I have been busy with twin girls since the end of March. I haven’t closed up shop completely, but there are definitely many things higher on the priority list at the moment.

Addie and Hazel

Posted by pjm at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2011

The car is sold

It’s tempting to try to ascribe some kind of significance to selling my car on Valentine’s day, but really it was just the way the calendar worked.

1996 CivicI’ve driven the same vehicle for a bit less than fourteen years. I took out a loan to buy it in March of 1997, a very lightly used ‘96 with about six thousand miles on the odometer.

I paid the loan off in about three years, and just kept driving. (Quicken might be able to tell me the lifetime TCO of the car and help me suss out a cost per mile, sometime.) It got pretty good mileage. It got hit once or twice, by objects ranging from softballs to Lincoln Continentals (and including one pop-up canvas “garage” at one of our apartments).

I replaced the trunk lid to get rid of the spoiler. I didn’t replace the stereo, even though for the last few years if you turn the knob right or left it’s anyone’s guess whether the volume went up or down. I fixed some things and not others.

I think it would be stretching things to say I loved the car. I think it would be fair to say we were pretty used to each other. I did not relish the idea of shopping for a new car, and the annoyances of the old one did not add up to wanting to get rid of it.

The tipping point turned out to be car seats. You can’t get car seats into the back of a two-door car—at least not this one.

So Sunday morning I put it on Craigslist. I fielded a lot of emails and made a few phone calls. Tonight I had a family come by. They looked it over, looked under the hood, kicked the tires, took it for a drive. Then they counted out some hundred-dollar bills and I signed the title over.

They’ll come back in a few days with new license plates, and it will be someone else’s commuter car for the next few years. He sounds like he knows how to keep a car running. I suggested that he’d get it to 200,000, and he responded, “I’m going to get it to 300,000.”

Posted by pjm at 9:42 PM | Comments (0)

May 3, 2010

I should probably let the sleeping fees lie

Our cell phones, since we got them, have had 413 area codes, and we’ve seen no reason to change that since moving to New York.

Our cell phone company knows we’ve moved to New York. It sends our monthly statement to New York. It knows the phones are mostly used in New York. (Actually, the phones were purchased and the contract last extended in Virginia, so it has no reason to believe we’re tied to Massachusetts.) But my statement still carries a monthly line item for a “MA State Telecom Tax”.

I wonder what New York’s state telecom tax rate is. If it’s anything like every other state tax we’ve had a chance to compare with Massachusetts, it’s higher.

Posted by pjm at 7:50 PM | Comments (0)

April 30, 2010

Apparently I am a bear

Last weekend (I think) I came down with an unseasonable head cold. Since then I abandoned my nascent coffee habit in favor of vast quantities of tea. Instead of the refined sugar I’ve favored since I learned to drink tea, I sweetened it with honey. (I also think I may have finally learned to like green tea.)

A bit more than a week ago, I bought a two-pound bottle of honey. It’s almost gone. I did some quick math with the nutrition label and my high-school-science estimating skills and decided that over the past 6 days, somewhere between 15 and 20% of my caloric intake* has been honey.

(* Of course, if I’ve mis-guessed at my daily caloric intake, I could be way off on my percentage guess.)

Posted by pjm at 7:21 PM | Comments (0)

February 4, 2010

Social media: a recognizable profile image helps

I have a persistent aspiring Facebook friend. I get regular “friend requests” from him, and I always click “ignore,” but in another day or two, or a week, he’s back. I’ve started clicking the “I don’t know this person” link, but that doesn’t seem to be helping.

Now, I’m not terribly good with names, and in my track-writing career I meet a lot of people who I don’t see enough for their names to stick. It’s entirely possible that I actually do know this person. We have four or five friends “in common” but they are all people I would consider public figures in the sport (i.e. significantly bigger names than me, coaches or broadcasters) with hundreds if not thousands of Facebook “friends”, so I can’t learn anything there.

The compounding problem is his profile photo, which is simply a photo of the infield of a track. I don’t even recognize which track, so it must be a stadium I haven’t visited. I certainly can’t pick out individual people in the photo. He might as well have put up a red-and-orange “Stand with Haiti” badge, which would tell me just as much about who he is.

So my suggestion is this: If you’re going to send friend requests to people who may reasonably have difficulty remembering that they met you, make sure your profile photo actually shows you somewhere. It doesn’t have to be a photo - I have at least two Facebook friends whose profile photos are illustrations, but when I saw them I thought, “Yup, I remember so-and-so.” The photo is certainly part of your communication and your presentation, but sometimes it’s the only part visible, and you should make sure you give it the tools to do what you ask of it.

Posted by pjm at 9:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2010

Twice as annoying as political robo-calls

Because I still have my cell phone with its 413 area code, I am now getting robo-calls trying to influence my vote for the special election to fill the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Ted Kennedy died.

In other words, I’m getting robo-called about an election I can’t vote in. (I’m registered in New York now.)

Posted by pjm at 6:43 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2009

Sugar and chocolate for Christmas

Over the past weekend, I made four batches of fudge for various Christmas dinners, gifts, etc.. I mentioned this on Facebook and was asked for the recipe.

The recipe I use is Remarkable Fudge from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. (N.B. not every edition of the cook book has this recipe, but the recipe is available online if you look hard enough.)

I wrote up a pretty thorough run-through of making the fudge about two years ago. It’s all still true.

I don’t know the actual history but I’ve probably been doing this close to 20 years. I’ve certainly made more than fifty batches by now. I figured out the rough raw materials for this year’s four batches, and came up with:

  • a bit less than ten pounds of sugar (16 cups)
  • almost a half gallon of evaporated milk
  • two pounds of butter
  • a half gallon of marshmallow creme (Fluff, if you can get it)
  • three pounds of various chocolate-esque chips (semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate, and peanut butter, this year)
  • and a quarter cup of vanilla

I’m a little vague on the weight for the sugar because while I know I used 16 cups, I poured two five-pound bags into the canister in the course of work and may have wound up with more in the canister than I started with.

Posted by pjm at 6:21 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2009

The model downtown

Since we’ve moved, I’ve had a hard time reconciling my opinions about supporting local economies and reducing car dependence with the actual circumstances we find ourselves in. The contrast between our little house just outside Amherst’s downtown, or the awesome apartment we had in Northampton, and the apartment complex in Colonie illustrates just how many ways we (as a society) have made it difficult for ourselves to function without our cars and our shopping centers full of national chain stores.

By prioritizing living close to A’s work (thus minimizing the miles driven for commuting) we find ourselves in a car-dependent wasteland; it’s impossible to get anywhere without driving, and the near-total absence of sidewalks means it’s difficult to find good places to run and bicyclists are also forced on to high-traffic roadways. And there’s very little locally-owned business, although Troy is doing a laudable job of boosting their downtown. (I’ve already patronized Market Block Books and The Placid Baker, and I’m going to try out The Daily Grind as a place to work for a few hours when I need to flee the home office.

Meanwhile, state and national media have been pumping up my hometown as a model of a functioning downtown. The best piece is from the Portland Press Herald (you may see some familiar names in there) but there was a good piece in the local TV news as well. If you’re planning your summer vacation, the week around July 4 is always a good time to be in town.

Posted by pjm at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2009

Name scramble

I’m fortunate enough to have a name which is misunderstood just often enough to be amusing and not often enough to be annoying. My northeastern tendency to soften my Rs (three of them in my full name) means I often spell it out if I’m at all concerned about accuracy.

The most recent culprit (or victim, I suppose) was trapped by the fact that my first name is often a family name. The Albany County Board of Elections, or some computer working for it, decided that my middle name was my first name, and that my given name and my family name were, in fact, a hyphenated family name. (Not PJM but J P-M.)

Needless to say, I’m getting this straightened out before the next election.

Posted by pjm at 8:38 PM | Comments (0)

October 2, 2009

Replacing license plates shouldn't be this hard

I’ve got New York plates for the car. The back one replaced the Mass plates easily enough. The front one is a little tougher.

The Mass plate, of course, hasn’t moved since I screwed it on eight years ago. When I started turning the screw, I noticed pretty soon that it was turning but wasn’t going anywhere. Whatever the screws were threaded in to must be turning too, inside the bumper.

Later, I tried again with some tools. Unfortunately the head of the screw was too close to the plate to get at it effectively with a file, and the metal was too hard to notch or abrade any other way. I was able to use the file and some bending to make a cut in the plate down to the screw on one side, but I couldn’t get behind the screw to actually get it free.

I decided to try again from behind, and wound up taking the entire front bumper cover off. (Two screws, one on either side in the front wheel-well at the corner of the fairing, and two bolts on the bottom of the frame; that’s all that’s holding it on.) I discovered that the screws went in to funny little nuts: flat like washers, but obviously threaded, and long ovals (that is, they had wings, they weren’t round). It was clear from the setting that these were supposed to be held in place by plastic on the inside of the bumper cover; it was equally clear that they no longer were.

I tried getting a grip on these nuts with vise-grips and with real pliers, but had no luck either way; they were too flat and flush to the inside of the bumper cover. I then got frustrated and took out my bolt-cutters, which I used to gnaw one of the screws down to a nub but wasn’t able, again, to get close enough to the nut to do any good.

So I put the bumper cover back on (only one bolt left over; I don’t know where it came from, because I didn’t take it out). Now I’m thinking maybe I need someone to drill out the screws. Or, with better snips, get rid of the nuts from the inside.

Or just replace the bumper cover, which looks like it would cost on the order of $150 for an unpainted one. And I thought I’d won an expensive battle when I convinced New York that the car was exempt from state sales tax.

Update: The garage in town did a bunch of these a few years ago when New York did a mandatory plate update. They ground the heads off the bolts and pushed them out the back, then screwed on the new plate. Total cost: under $9. Clearly having the right tools helps.

Posted by pjm at 9:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2009

Product line

The local hardware store has air filters and coffee makers, but not coffee filters.

(They don’t have air makers either, before you ask.)

Posted by pjm at 12:24 PM | Comments (2)

August 6, 2009

Once again my lack of follow-through is on display

The promised forthcoming posts will be waiting a bit. I have good excuses.

  • Got married last week. (License: $30. Justice of the Peace: $100. Absence of wedding-planning hassle: Priceless.)
  • Work is going well, which means we’re busy.
  • Getting on a plane for Germany tomorrow. (I’ll have some relevant posts about that trip here and at Flat Hills Road, if I have time.)
  • Oh, and A starts her new job outside Albany while I’m away, which means I have to pack half the house (or so) before getting on the plane, because “home” when I get back may not be the “home” I’m leaving. (Not the first time this has happened…)

Posted by pjm at 10:32 AM | Comments (7)

July 15, 2009

And this was how the giant buoy got anchored in the tiny pond

This morning I was thinking it would be cool if there was a website showing conditions at Puffer’s Pond. Water temperature, air temperature, maybe a wind reading.

Then I figured you could probably hack together some kind of home weather station with a cell card and a buoy, and have it “phone in” its data on a regular basis—just check in hourly with a quick blip of data. Then you could build a website to store the data and show stuff like daily temperature curves, a trailing average of temperature at a given time of day over several days, air/water temperature gradient, and maybe start predicting swimming conditions based on current conditions and the weather forecast.

Then I realized what I really wanted was for GoMOOS to plant a buoy in Puffer’s. Is that so wrong?

Posted by pjm at 7:36 PM | Comments (1)

June 7, 2009

Excuses

The most exciting things happening at work (aside from that there are three of us now) are clients we don’t actually have yet, so I can’t talk about them. (You’ve heard of them. Unlike our biggest client to date, which is huge in Europe but most Americans I’ve mentioned them to shrug and ask, “Who?”)

I’ve posted most of my recent writing projects on my running blog. I have an interesting one due for release soon in a not-exactly-running periodical, which I will probably mention when it goes out.

Step trash can with retro-fitted handleSo I wind up writing about how I multi-task on my walk back and forth to work (NPR podcasts, charging the wind-up flashlights) and the odd photo which went through my Flickr stream recently. That would be how I avoided throwing out a step-to-open metal trash can (used for Izzy’s scooped litter) when the lid hinge broke.

I dug in to my toolbox to find a handle from a previous Ikea project (three drawers and handles which came two to a packet, I think). I used an eight-penny nail to whack holes in the can lid, and screwed on the handle. Now the can works again (A says better than before) and the handle is a lot more solidly built than whatever flimsy plastic bit broke in the hinge. Built to throw away, indeed.

Posted by pjm at 6:07 PM | Comments (0)

May 8, 2009

Slow down

My running log advises me that if I want to lose weight, I should eat more slowly. The idea is that if I give my body a chance to register that it’s full, I would stop eating sooner.

Their suggestion to slow my pace down is to “converse more at the table.” Anyone who’s eaten with me knows this is not an issue, but Iz hasn’t been holding up his end of the conversations recently.

My alternate strategy: I’ve been eating as many meals as possible with chopsticks. I’m actually developing chopstick calluses.

Posted by pjm at 8:23 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2009

The tight credit market trickles down

Today’s mail included a notice from one of my credit card issuers, telling me they have “adjusted” my credit limit based on “the way [I] have historically used [my] account”. (All previous noticed about my credit limit were explicit about how they had “raised” my limit, so I am forced to conclude that “adjusted” is bank double-speak for “lowered.”)

The new credit limit, approximately half the previous limit (sound familiar? Same lender) is still 15 to 20 times more than I generally use the card for in a given month. I can still buy a car with the credit card, just not as ridiculous a car as before. Put another way, this new credit limit is more appropriate than the last one… so what business did they have offering me the previous amount of credit?

As another victim put it,

It’s kind of emotionally painful to be told that yesterday you were considered dependable to pay back up to X$, but today you’re only good for 0.5X$, for no reason. …

But what pisses me off the most is that a few months ago, when the bank itself was having a spot of financial trouble, and needed a loan to hold them over, I sent them $146.92. I did, and so did every other living U.S. citizen. That was money I really could’ve used for something else. They haven’t paid me back for that yet, and I kind of doubt they ever will. So they really have a lot of nerve, after taking my helping hand, to write me a letter saying they’re cutting my credit.

Posted by pjm at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2009

It gets worse

After this afternoon, I have another thing to add to the discussion about IE6. And that is: if you think it’s hard trying to develop web pages for IE6, try developing HTML for Word. Because that’s the rendering engine Outlook 2007 uses, which means that’s how millions of emails every day get viewed.

It’s not quite 1998, but it’s pretty close.

Posted by pjm at 6:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2009

As happy as I'm going to get in the office

(Bottom of the coffee pot) + (packet of Swiss Miss) + (hot water to top off mug) = Mmmm

Posted by pjm at 4:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 6, 2009

People who say these things are usually lying

“Quick question for you…”

“One last thing…”

Posted by pjm at 4:20 PM | Comments (3)

March 3, 2009

A press release, or a taunt?

Somewhere along the line, I found myself on the press mailing list for the 2010 European Championships, which will be held in Barcelona. (I suspect there’s enough overlap between the Barcelona 10 organizers and the Valencia ‘08 committee that they simply grabbed the email addresses of all media from the World Indoor Championships last year.)

This would be eminently reasonable except that there’s no good reason for me to get any assignments to attend a European Championships. That and the Commonwealth Games are the two big meets I’m pretty much unlikely to see unless I go as a tourist someday.

(If I work a big meet in 2010, it’s likely to be the World Juniors, in Moncton, New Brunswick.)

There’s no way for the Barcelona team to know this, of course. After all, I came to Valencia, why not Barcelona, right?

Posted by pjm at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2009

Overtones of mocha

Every time I use an insulated mug for coffee, my tea tastes like coffee for weeks, if not months, afterward. I had hoped my new thermos mug would be the exception, thanks to its aluminum cylinder, but apparently not.

It seems the only real solution is learning to not mind the taste of coffee.

Posted by pjm at 9:43 AM | Comments (3)

February 15, 2009

Most predictable late-winter headline in New England

That would be “Man rescued after snowmobile breaks through ice” or some similar formation of the same concept.

Given the bitter cold of January, however, I’m impressed with how early the headline arrived.

Posted by pjm at 4:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 31, 2009

Counting

I’ve received three different forms for our annual municipal census. (Failure to respond gets you marked as “inactive” in the voter rolls.) Two were essentially addressed to “occupant,” so I have no idea how many people the town thinks live here.

On the one with our names, the column for “occupation” is blank next to A’s name.

Next to my name is the block-letter word “UNKNOWN”.

I had no idea my work was so sinister.

Posted by pjm at 3:12 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2009

Unusually retrospective

My brother’s not-really-Christmas card (“Better late than never”) arrived today, featuring photos of him and his daughters in several not-snowy-and-cold contexts. One of them was Fenway Park.

And that reminded me of something else. Specifically, that for all the big things that happened in 2008, and it was a pretty big year, this is the one I’m still kind of surprised I actually saw. And it still makes me grin when I remember it.

I love a good track meet, and I have several on the schedule for 2009 (including at least one in Eugene and a big one in Berlin) but I wonder what I could find that I’ll be looking back on like that in January 2010.

Posted by pjm at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2009

Everything in one big feed

I realize I haven’t been writing here much, but rather than come up with a litany of excuses or promises to improve (who says you want to hear from me that often?) I’m going to explain what’s changed about the way I publish online.

  • The big one: I’ve concentrated all my running-themed weblog publishing on Flat Hills Road. The design still isn’t where I want it, and I have inchoate ideas of incorporating multiple sources (e.g. appropriately tagged Flickr photos) but writing about running is in fact being committed there.

  • Random stuff I find on the Internet is most likely to turn up with a brief comment on delicious.com. I actually annotate what I’m posting there, and while much of it relates directly to whatever I’m currently working on, you can use that to get an idea of what my mind is focused on at any given time. This seems to have taken the place of short posts here centered around a single link.

  • More concrete thoughts about work turn up at the Common Media blog. Recently that’s included overriding the faulty default styling of the a tag in HTML and CSS and some stories about our recent clients. I’m brewing a thought about interchangeable data stores modeled on Apple’s iTunes library, but that’s as yet unwritten.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: I used Yahoo Pipes to publish a single feed which contains all of the posts on this weblog, all comments on posts here, all my Flickr photos, all my delicious.com bookmarks, all Flat Hills Road posts, and all the posts written by me on the company weblog. So if you’re really determined to follow everything I write, subscribe to that feed and keep life simpler.

Posted by pjm at 11:40 AM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2008

Give list

Peanuts from December 11, 2008

This is what I want to fix about the Idea List, if I ever had time. When I first wrote it, the idea was to make it possible to answer the “what do you want for Christmas?” question for multiple people at once. Now, I’d rather write an application that lets me keep track of what I want to get people for Christmas.

I’ve always thought of this strip when I heard about git, too, and wondered if they were related.

Posted by pjm at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2008

Buy local

I’m not a terribly political person, though like anyone, I have my issues I can get worked up about.

I had a Letter to the Editor published in this past Wednesday’s Daily Hampshire Gazette, which I’ll include below in the unedited form I sent to them. Two things led to my writing and sending this letter.

First, I read Stacy Mitchell’s Big Box Swindle, which reads like a polemic against big-box retailers and other national chains, but comes with meticulous end-notes and extensive research. (Much of the research owes its roots to the opposition to Wal-Mart in Greenfield, just up the river from us.) I won’t go over the book in detail, because it’s fractal; each supporting sentence is important as the paragraph it’s in, each paragraph vital to the chapters. The main assertions are this: Big-box chain retailers are ruining the prosperity of our cities and towns by replacing good jobs with bad ones, inefficiently using municipal services and dodging taxes when they can, while offering little price advantage and lower product quality compared to independent or locally-owned retailers. They enjoy several competitive advantages over the independents, yet give back significantly less to the communities in which they do business. I’ll let Mitchell expand on those points; dig up a copy of her book at your local bookstore (if you still have one).

Second, I got an email from my parents with a draft of a letter they sent to their local paper. It ran shortly before Thanksgiving, and my father told me he’d heard of at least one downtown merchant who had a customer promising to do all their holiday shopping at the local stores this year. (I can’t find their letter on the website now, but theirs isn’t the only one, and here’s what’s at stake.) The paper’s editorial page underlines the point inadvertently in an apparently-unrelated editorial. Notice that list of merchants at the end: not a national chain among them.

It’s worth considering more than just price when you do your holiday shopping.

At any rate, here’s the letter I sent to the Gazette:

To The Editor,

With the holiday shopping season looming over us, we should remind ourselves that where we do our shopping is just as important as how much we spend and what we buy.

Independent, local businesses provide more value to a community than just another store. They help us build and maintain our social networks and our sense of community. They return a large part of their revenue to the community in the form of taxes, charitable contributions, and salaries, are more likely to provide a market for locally-produced goods, and keep a larger share of their profits in town as well. Locally-owned businesses are more likely to advertise in local newspapers and radio and use local services. And the employees and owners of local, independent businesses are more likely to be passionate and knowledgeable about the market they’re in.

In recent decades, tax policies, our car culture and unfortunate planning decisions have led to more and more of our retail dollars being spent at national chains. Compared to these national chains, independent retailers employ more people at a living wage, but often have to compete at a financial disadvantage.

It’s tempting to think that in tough economic times, we can’t afford to ignore the supposedly lower prices offered by the chain retailers. Beyond the price tags, however, if times are truly tough and getting tougher, shouldn’t we be keeping our retail spending in our communities, where it can recirculate and employ our neighbors and strengthen our communities, rather than sending it to corporate headquarters elsewhere?

[signed]

I took my father’s advice and avoided making negative arguments against the big chains (my original closing sentence read, “sending it to Bentonville, Arkansas”) and I think I might have made sharper points if I’d left the text alone for a few days and then rewritten. But it says what I wanted it to say.

Posted by pjm at 1:36 PM | Comments (1)

December 5, 2008

Get to the point

The whole point is to say, “so I don’t have any groceries in the house yet.”

Nobody really cares if the race I’m planning to run in Northampton, which therefore means I can do my grocery shopping at the co-op there in a combined trip, which is why I haven’t bought groceries yet (aside from the total lack of time), is actually 5K or in fact some tenths of a mile longer, as has been alleged.

But I get caught up in all those subordinate clauses and never reach the point.

Posted by pjm at 6:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2008

Busy

Things are happening all at once, as they are wont to do.

I’ve had—still have—higher priorities than writing here. With any luck I’ll be back in a week or so.

If you missed the implication two entries ago, I’ve made a decision to try putting all my running writing in one blog by itself, on the chance that more people might read it if they knew what they were getting. I called it Flat Hills Road. One of the things I’ve wanted to write here, but haven’t had time for, is explaining why I’m doing that.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in Virginia for a few days.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 PM | Comments (1)

November 5, 2008

Politics as sports

A friend of ours is a native Irishman, and this was the first Presidential election in which he’s been able to vote. As with many (most?) Europeans, his place on the political spectrum is around those who think the current administration should be indicted for war crimes.

On this morning’s run, I wondered aloud if the students at the University had rioted, the way they tend to if the Red Sox or the Patriots win (or, sometimes, lose). He said his precinct, like ours, has plenty of students, and they were all around him when he went to vote; one wondered about riots like I had. “Sure they will,” said a second, and a third claimed to be an SA and said they had been put on alert for such events.

“I thought, but didn’t say,” went on our friend, “‘Now if he loses, then you really ought to riot.’”

(I haven’t seen any reports of riots at the University, for what it’s worth.)

Now Playing: Getaway from Drops of Jupiter by Train

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November 4, 2008

Vote early, vote often

That’s what my very first CS professor wrote on the blackboard in early November 1992. By then, I had already mailed an absentee ballot back to Maine. They encourage students to vote absentee in their home states, around here, so I was ahead of the curve.

Anyway, this morning the polls were opening around when our run started, so we stopped by our polling place five minutes after they opened the doors. The line was out the door by about 20 people, the longest line I’ve seen in the three presidential elections where I didn’t vote absentee. We decided to come back later because we could, so we did our workout and stopped by again on the cooldown. The line was still out the door, but only by five or six people, so we got in it, then discovered that there were 25 or 30 people in line inside the door.

We sat it out and voted anyway, and the line was longer when we came out.

At least in our precinct, the hold-up was not mechanical. There were plenty of booths and the machine that was scanning ballots was seldom backed up by more than one or two people. The hold-up was the distribution of ballots. On arrival at the head of the line, each voter announced their street name, then number, then their name, so two people could look them up in two separate voter rolls and confirm we were registered voters. Only then did we get two ballots (one with all the state and national offices and ballot questions, and a second which was only the town select board election) and go to vote.

The same process was repeated again before the ballots could be put in the tally machine. This wasn’t a bottleneck, though, because the rate of voters arriving at that table was controlled by the previous table’s bottleneck, and therefore never greater than these two people could handle.

It’s a fraud check, I know, and a relatively effective one given that I as a voter already on the rolls didn’t need to present ID, but they’d definitely get everyone through faster if it could be made quicker.

There’s reports of long lines throughout MA, but I haven’t heard of anyone I know waiting more than an hour to vote, so I guess our system works decently well. I really hope we do set a voter turnout record, as predicted; the old record is downright pathetic.

Polls close in this state in an hour and a half. I don’t intend to wait up to get projections from other time zones; I’ll find out from the front page of the morning newspaper, the old-fashioned way. I hope.

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October 16, 2008

It takes a lot of money to run for office

Apparently the reason candidates for political office require so much money is because they waste huge amounts of it.

Consider this county treasurer candidate in Michigan who apparently bought a list of “entrepreneurs” (or small businesses?) and sent campaign mailings without running a simple filter to restrict the mailing to addresses in Michigan.

I’m having a hard time balancing the possible time savings of not doing that filter with the time and energy used to transport this card from there to Massachusetts.

I wonder if it’s possible to run a competitive political campaign that is also efficient?

Now Playing: Above the Map from SXSW 2006 Showcasing Artist by Zykos

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October 7, 2008

Please stop using this phrase

Ever since I rejoined corporate America (albeit on my own terms) I’ve been hearing advertising and marketing people use the phrase “email blast.” Tonight I saw it in a market survey for customers.

Marketers, please stop using this phrase. I know it sounds cool, and I know it gets you all excited to think about your message exploding all over the internet, but you really, really need to look at this from the point of view of the recipients of your message. We’re people who spend an annoying amount of time removing spam from our inboxes, or filtering out the spam, and the idea of being on the receiving end of your “blast” is really unsettling. It’s a very one-way, very forceful word, and from this side it sounds like something I should be defending myself against.

It’s been nine years since the cluetrain manifesto and hearing this phrase repeated reminds me that a large, large number of companies still haven’t gotten on the train.

Now Playing: Happy from God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

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September 20, 2008

Let's talk about role models

Before the results started rolling in and my clerking role picked up, I had time to watch part of the freshman girls’ race at today’s cross-country meet. Actually, I didn’t watch much of the race. Instead, I watched the guy in his car, stopped by the Public Safety officer until the race passed by.

He was flipping the bird to each and every runner going by. That’s about sixty 9th-grade girls. And this was not some college student; this guy had to be at least ten years older than me (and about fifty pounds heavier, while we’re at it.) I noticed that not only was he pretty emphatic, at some point he rolled down his window to better communicate his point.

I also noticed he never had his hands out of the car while the public safety officer was looking his way (which was, admittedly, seldom).

I sort of wanted to say something to him, but I couldn’t figure out what. “Way to demonstrate patience and maturity, man”?

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September 18, 2008

Facebook policy

I was reading Clive Thompson’s NY Times article about ambient awareness the other week (have I mentioned that I’ve been a Clive Thompson fan for years now?) and realized something. No, I’m not signing up for Twitter. But I need a policy for connections on online social networks.

The problem is that my network has several centers. Many/most college students, the audience Facebook was built for, have two principal social centers: their college, and their friends from high school. Adults who’ve been out of the bubble for a few years have a lot more. I’ve participated in several networks, face to face and online, from insular and closed to wide-open and public. Some of my friends overlap networks. And in some contexts, it’s not enough for me to connect to someone just because we’ve shared a context in the past; I may still hardly know you.

Also, different networks get different rules. Flickr, for example, realizes that not all connections are bi-directional, so there’s a lot more room to express nuance. Facebook, on the other hand, has stopped pushing people to explain the links in their network. And LinkedIn exists purely for the network. So, for those latter two, I need to think about whose links I accept or request.

On LinkedIn, for example, I’m going to ask myself: have I worked with this person? Have we been introduced and talked more than a minute or so? If I know them online, how? If we’re members of the same public forum, but haven’t necessarily interacted as individuals, do I know what they do, or even understand what they do? Would I “talk shop” with them, asking them questions or answering theirs? If so, sure, I’ll make that link.

On Facebook, it’s a little more constrained, because the size of the network is not the point of Facebook the way it is on LinkedIn. Some links (family, former teammates, etc.) are obvious. When they grey areas come up, though, in general, if I’ve run with a person, they’re in. If I’ve had one-on-one conversations with them, sure. If I’ve only met them online? Mutual membership in a larger group isn’t really enough here, I think; but if we could sit down on a park bench and play a game of Scrabble, or meet for a run, without significant awkwardness, that’s enough. (And when we ask questions like that, things get significantly simpler.)

Now Playing: I Wanna Be Ignored by Ezra Furman & The Harpoons

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September 11, 2008

Following the fun

We talked about working at things you love a few years ago.

Off and on over the last nine months or so, we’ve been doing some developing work for a lawyer who had an idea he thought might be worth exploring.

He’s getting close to having a complete system, and he’s been showing it around to people in hopes of sparking some interest and getting things started. I don’t know much about this end of what’s going on, so I’ve mostly stayed out of the conversation.

Today, one of his messages included, in passing, the paragraph

Exciting stuff. Beats practicing law.

So now you know why I never considered going to law school. (And the Kenworth of my Dreams is looking more and more like a bad bet, these days. Anyone interested in a business venture in a cargo schooner? How many shipping containers do you think we could get in one?)

Now Playing: Los Angeles Looks Prettier on TV by Greg Koons

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September 10, 2008

Homophone note

Lose, as in losing games, losing your car keys, or losing your mind, is spelled with one “o”. Remember that the opposite of a win is a loss and you’ll have the “o”s right.

Loose, as in letting loose, on the loose, or loosening your tie, is spelled with a double “o”.

This is a public service announcement, not a chastisement; your spell-checker will not help you with this, and I’ve seen people who supposedly work with the English language professionally get it wrong. Don’t start me in on “rein”, “rain”, and “reign”, which are so frequently confused, I wonder if I might be getting them wrong myself.

Now Playing: This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open from Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans

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Deciding vote

Since the major-party candidates announced their nominees for Vice President in the last month, I feel like I’ve been reading more about those nominees (one in particular) than about the top-of-ticket candidates. Part of this is because they’re new and there’s not much about the candidates themselves that didn’t get hashed over in the primaries, of course.

I see a lot of VP discussion centering on the nominee’s role in the campaign and the “qualified to be President” argument. (The last VP to become President through succession was Gerald Ford; despite the candidate’s age, we can probably count all of them in U.S. history on our fingers.)

What I haven’t seen, and what is probably more relevant, is the reminder that the VP is also President of the Senate and the 101st vote in the event the Senate deadlocks with a 50-50. That deciding vote doesn’t happen too often, but reminding voters about it might help clarify the importance of the VP pick a little more: it’s an extra, nation-wide Senate race.

Now Playing: Couple Days Off from Hard At Play by Huey Lewis & The News

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August 22, 2008

Cruel deception

The vending machine in the press tribune asks for a paltry 5 yuan (about $0.72) before coughing up “cold” caffeine in the form of Coke and iced tea. (“Hot” caffeine in the form of free coffee comes from machines in a lounge near the mixed zone.)

Frustratingly, the machine tends to dispense green iced tea when one presses the button for black iced tea. I’ve done this three times now and I still haven’t learned.

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August 17, 2008

On relative access

My guilty conscience about breezing by the lengthy lines for entering the Olympic Green made me think about previous major meets and how I passed security there (insofar as there was security; my two World Championships before Osaka were Seville and Edmonton in ‘99 and ‘01, both before September 11 spurred a proliferation of security theater).

I realized that even in Osaka, the security lines for media were entirely separate from those for most spectators (although I could wait in the spectator lines if I was so inclined.) And by “separate” I mean “in another location entirely.” The fact that the event was confined to one stadium made this easier, of course, but when one stood in a short media security line, one wasn’t doing so under the glare of hundreds of spectators standing in lines an order of magnitude (or two) longer.

The sprawling size of the Olympic Green (supposedly the “common domain” is about three times the size of New York’s Central Park) makes this impractical. However, I’ve heard that media staying in official media hotels go through security at their hotel, before boarding the shuttle bus. The bus then drops them inside the security perimeter, saving them both the lines and the glares.

But also, it’s worth noting that the line we go through is signed for credentialed staff plus “the elderly, the disabled, the little…” or something like that. So using that line may come with some small loss of face I’m unaware of.

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August 8, 2008

When anticipation gives way to panic

As I write, the Opening Ceremonies are happening, twelve hours ahead of me in Beijing. Three days from now I’ll be on a plane.

I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it, but I’ve been anticipating this trip since the prospect arose last fall. Until a few weeks ago, it had the feeling of a long drive: as long as the destination is over the horizon, eight months and two months are pretty much the same. I accumulated some unread guidebooks, a fresh passport, and a trickle of organizational paperwork.

Now things seem to be approaching at a terrifying rate. I’m looking at my to-do list and wondering how much of it will actually get done, and getting a little stressed out about making sure all my ducks are in a metaphorical row by the end of the day Sunday.

Last night this was reaching the point of a tension headache as I peered at the command line of a new server. Then the house went dark. A downed tree somewhere in town had cut power to our neighborhood. My laptop would still run on batteries, but the network was down, so what was the point?

I used a flashlight to dig a few candles out of a box in the basement, and went to bed early, reading by candlelight for an hour or so. I woke up in the middle of the night—probably hearing the buzz and whir of powering-up printers in the office—to discover a light on in the dining room, and the power back on. But I slept better than I had in days.

Update: …and the Onion is not helping.

Now Playing: King’s Crossing from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

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July 18, 2008

Skype indulges my geekery

Somewhere I picked up a habit, in IM conversations, of correcting myself using Perl syntax. (I think perl swiped this from awk or sed but I’m not that old; I learned it from Perl.) To clarify for less geeky people, that means that I would type something like

s/Oriten/Orient/

and expect it to be read as, “Oops, I fat-fingered the spelling of that word, here’s the correct version so you know what I meant.” The more literal interpretation of that syntax is “replace the first string with the second one.”

Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I did exactly this in a Skype IM conversation, and rather than having my little substitution shorthand turn up in the chat window, it actually edited my preceding message and added a little flag saying the message had been edited.

I’ve found myself wishing more than once that I could have shell access to life, instead of being completely limited to this visually-stimulating-but-inefficient audio/visual interface, and for one brief second Skype brought that dream a baby-step closer to reality.

Now Playing: Tellin’ Stories from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

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July 16, 2008

Vote cat

Iz stakes me out

I put a few recent Iz photos on Flickr the other day. (Monday, Tuesday, whatever.)

This one turns out to have been picked up as a “top photo” on Pet Charts, “the definitive guide to the best pet stuff online.” (Note that this site has a subtle but unmistakable corporate backer.)

Anyway, it’s currently #4 of 5 in “Cats” for today. It’s ultimately meaningless, of course, but if you feel like voting it up, it might bolster the high opinion he already has of himself.

Now Playing: Minor Details by Wichita Stallions

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July 12, 2008

Putting their money where my mouth is

Back in May, I posted an opinionated little bit about the so-called “economic stimulus checks” we’re being sent by the Federal Government in an effort to jump-start consumer spending and thereby re-start economic growth. Mine arrived in June, when I was busy getting ready to go to Eugene, so I deposited it and promised myself I’d figure out what to do with the money later.

In Eugene, I read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is subtitled, “The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World”. It’s a remarkable book, in that Kidder, who is often nearly invisible in his books, is much more of a character in this one, and he plays us, everyone who reads of the fantastic efforts of Farmer and feels perhaps a little smaller in comparison.

Farmer’s motivation is, perhaps reductively, simply this: people are dying of curable diseases. Not only do they not need to die, but if they weren’t so poor, they might not be vulnerable to these diseases (AIDS, tuberculosis, etc.) in the first place. And finally, they are often poor as a direct result of this country’s foreign policies (e.g. Haiti).

Farmer’s organization, Partners In Health, takes on these public health issues around the world, addressing them primarily because they are addressable—because they don’t view resignation in the face of overwhelming odds an appropriate response—but it also happens that addressing pandemics like multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and AIDS immediately, even in poor communities (or, in the case of MDR TB, in the prisons of Russia) is significantly less expensive than it will be to address them once they break free of those environments and simply start sweeping the world at large.

I can’t hope to find the dedication Farmer has to his cause, but it does make me angry that my government can find $600 to mail to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers to buy more gasoline, and billions upon billions of dollars to fund an unnecessary war in Iraq, but it can’t spare a few million to cure MDR TB in Haiti, or even attempt to address the health needs of its own poorest citizens.

So I’ve taken the $600 the government sent me and forwarded it on to Partners In Health. I think they’ll do better things with it than I would, and certainly they’ll do better than the government has.

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June 16, 2008

Recipe for disaster

On the bag of brown rice, I noticed a small block of text headed, “Microwave Directions.”

Hoping that might be slightly simpler than the stovetop directions (boil water, add rice, then oscillate between too much heat and no heat until bored or rice is cooked to bottom of pan), I skimmed through. It included the phrase, “Cook 35-45 minutes.”

I’m a little alarmed at the idea of leaving anything in the microwave for a half hour or more.

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June 5, 2008

Finger status

It’s been more than five weeks since the stitches came out of my finger. As Chris suggested (and it was nice to have that outside information, I’d add) as the scab came off and left a section of scar on the fingertip (about a quarter of that finger’s fingerprint is just gone), the numbness has gone away as well. The scar is quite faint, and the absence of fingerprint texture is more notable than the scar is.

Full feeling hasn’t returned, though; that fingertip is both extra sensitive and somehow under-sensitive. Extra-sensitive in that insignificant things like rummaging in my pocket for keys can be quite painful; in that sense it’s as though the fingertip was blistered. On the other hand, the nerves there aren’t quite synched up enough to be useful for things like feeling texture.

I’ve also become so used to typing with nine fingers that I haven’t tried very hard to put it back in use for that task.

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May 27, 2008

Return of the Famous Cat

Laptop cat

Iz is an illustration on a Houston Chronicle blog entry today. The funny thing, to me, is that the question is about a Mac, and the photo shows Iz on A’s Dell. (There are plenty of photos of him on a Mac in iPhoto, but I suppose the ones which would have been illustrative here never made my Flickr stream.)

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May 25, 2008

Reluctant coffee consumer

One of the strategies I’ve been following to get work done during the time Iz is pestering me for dinner, once a week, has been retreating to one of our local wifi-equipped coffee shops, picking up a beverage, and working there until it’s time to return for kitty-dinner time.

Maybe the second time I did this, I realized that I was ripping through a pretty good quantity of work for the time I was there. Some of this is simply due to a feeling of having people looking over my shoulder, but I’m also playing with the idea that a little of this is also due to a stimulant effect of the beverage.

I’m reluctant to embrace this idea for a few reasons. One is that I usually get the least coffee on the menu, a mocha or vanilla latte, and I’m reluctant to believe that they have that much more caffeine (or sugar—I don’t add any) than my morning tea, which doesn’t appear to have much stimulant effect at all beyond quieting my craving for it.

The bigger one is that I don’t want to become one of those people whose ability to function becomes dependent on the regular application of $4 beverage. (Alcoholism, ounce for ounce, is cheaper.)

Given that I still haven’t developed a tolerance for the beverage in its pure state—my current ideal coffee is still the Japanese iced variety which is closer to coffee-flavored milk than coffee—I guess I don’t have too much to worry about just yet. But the path is there in front of me.

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May 20, 2008

The perils of making assumptions

I got a call from the University last week, wishing to nag me about making a pledge to their capital campaign. I was otherwise occupied and angry about being interrupted, but the twit on the other end of the line was not at all interested in my convenience. He asked if they could send me email. He then read back an email address which they claimed to have on file for me, using an alumni.*.edu subdomain I didn’t know existed at the University and a construction of my name I’m pretty sure they never used.

“You can send all the mail you want to that address,” I said, “but I’m pretty sure I won’t get any of it.” Oh, he asked, what should we use for an address?

At that point I was feeling pretty snooty about it, so I pulled out the alumni.*.edu address for the College.

“Wait, you’re an alumni there? How is that possible?”

I explained that as long as the University offered graduate programs, it was quite likely that many of its alumni would also be alumni of other colleges and universities. He seemed startled by this new revelation.

Noah reported a somewhat less satisfying experience, with the caller “putting him down” for a pledge Noah never mentioned. And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if perhaps it wasn’t the graduate students dragging down the University’s alumni giving rate, but the boneheads the development office has making their calls.

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May 19, 2008

No hitter

Noah had two extra tickets as of Thursday, so I asked my brother and we made plans for this evening. Section two, row fourteen, up under the upper deck in right field. For all that I like the team, I average somewhat less than one game per year at Fenway, and I thought I should take the opportunity.

After the third inning, when the Sox scored five, and then when Ellsbury stole second and third before Tek drove him home (“I just hit a triple!” said Noah. “But they walked him,” I observed,) Ben said something like, “You know, Lester has a no-hitter going.”

We went for warm beverages at the top of the seventh. The line at the Dunkie’s was absurd. The vendors with hot chocolate were getting ambushed before they could reach the stairs and selling out before they made it up to the seats. When we came back out the game was still on.

When we got off the orange line at Wellington, even after I dropped off Noah and Rachel in Medford and started the drive back, my ears were still ringing with the noise of the place. Actually, now, in a dark house in Amherst, they still are.

I stopped in Gardiner at midnight for something to drink, and when I came out of the convenience store, there was a guy telling the woman filling her car at the pump, “Jon Lester threw a no-hitter tonight.” I fingered the ticket stub in my pocket and thought, tell me about it.

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May 16, 2008

A better source for the information?

Maybe I’m getting less search engine traffic because it’s easier to find out how to get a parking permit in Medford now? (I’m not sure it is, but both major search engines show the right page at the top of their results, and my best result is third.)

Posted by pjm at 8:04 AM | Comments (0)

And where have you been?

Waiting for people

One of the rewarding things about most pets is an increase in the number of creatures who care where you are and what you’re doing. If one of us is home late or otherwise off the routine, or even if we’re just out on a run, Iz frequently stakes out the front door by sitting on his pedestal and gazing through the oversized window to the front porch. Last night, as he waited for A to return from her track meet, I took a long exposure.

Posted by pjm at 7:44 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2008

Hardwood

When we first adopted Iz, our apartment had wall-to-wall carpeting. He got used to sticking his spikes out a bit for extra traction on the corners, so when we eventually moved to one with faux-wood flooring, he was constantly skating around corners and crashing into walls.

The current place has honest-to-goodness hardwood floors, and he’s finally adapted, keeping the spikes in when he’s playing hard. As a result, sometimes his little pads actually squeak on the floor, like a basketball player.

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May 4, 2008

Rebate checks and our national priorities

Friday’s paper included an article about a school group in Northampton organizing a drive to ask residents to donate their “tax rebates” to the city’s schools, which are suffering severe budget shortfalls.

Like the last check we were sent by the federal government—$300 in 2001, which arrived in mid-September and which I proceeded to donate to the Red Cross—this particular handout of cash the government doesn’t really have to spend (aren’t we running a deficit?) makes me feel like someone is trying to buy my approval. It just smells bad to me. The pretense of “economic stimulus” feels pretty pathetic; if everyone who gets a rebate simply uses it to pay their existing credit card bill (not a bad idea, considering our national credit abuse is a major factor in our current economic malaise) it’s not going to do much to jump start the economic engine. To me, it feels like an attempt by our government to avoid responsibility; hush money to keep us from pointing the finger of responsibility their direction.

While many people are adopting the viewpoint that this is “their money” and they’ll use it for themselves, thank you, the idealist in me wants to believe that tax money paid to the Federal Government has always been “our money” and it still is, even if the feds give it back to us.

The National Priorities Project, another Northampton organization, examines how our government spending reflects our national priorities, and shows taxpayers how those priorities may differ from our own priorities. From that point of view, I think it’s possible to see this as an opportunity to spend this tiny fraction of the government’s money in ways that reflect our own priorities and not those imposed upon us.

Some Northampton residents think maintaining their schools is important, so they’re trying to redirect these federal funds there. We could give the money to research into issues touching people we know. We could spend it on photovoltaic panels or personal wind turbines to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We could find a way to plant more trees in our communities, or subsidize trail maintenance or other open-space initiatives. We could support people at the economic margins.

Or we could simply pay down our personal debt, acknowledging and facing the actions that got us here in the first place.

Either way, I think it’s time to twist the idea of whose money this is. If you don’t like how the government spends “your money”, here’s a chance to show them how you’d prefer to see it spent.

Now Playing: Northwestern Girls by Say Hi

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April 30, 2008

"A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken"

Jeremy Zawodny links to a Web 2.0 conference presentation by Clay Shirky about what Shirky calls “the cognitive surplus.” It can largely be boiled down to this: that whenever anyone asks, about the massive user-driven online projects (e.g. Wikipedia), “Where do they find the time for all this?” the answer is, generally, “They watch less television.”

Or at least, they see television differently than they used to. (See the title quote, a summary of how at least one anecdotal four-year-old views television.) I seldom, if ever, watch television; I try to keep this to myself, because it’s the sort of statement that makes people accuse you of trying to be superior (or simply acting smug.) I know people who do, but only in the context of other activities, not in the old context of simply sitting and watching. I can’t promise that I’m always doing interesting things with this extra time, though seven or eight hours of running every week may be part of it.

The difference, Shirky explains, is that we’re no longer afraid of what to do with our brain when we’re not working, and we don’t feel the need to hide in passive entertainment. We’re increasingly able to choose how we use that “cognitive surplus”, and when a project like Wikipedia can get a few billion of those brain-hours, it can do impressive (if not necessarily always accurate) things. It’s an interesting theory, and one that may not be provable, but if he’s right, the TV people had better be looking around to figure out where they fit in to this new world.

But don’t take my word for it; take Shirky’s.

Now Playing: The Obscenity Prayer by Rodney Crowell

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April 28, 2008

Unraveling

The stitches came out this morning. Thanks to the novocaine used in the ER, they hurt more coming out than they did going in.

My finger already feels better with the pressure of the stitches off, though it’s oddly sensitive. It’s tender as you might expect, but the very tip (outside the cut) is numb, as though it’s asleep. The doctor says it may or not ever get sensation back. I’m not too bothered, as long as I can type again soon.

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April 26, 2008

The finger report

Nicole points out that I haven’t really explained exactly what I did to my finger last week.

The quick summary is: I got a mandolin for my birthday, which for those who don’t know their esoteric kitchen equipment (I only had a vague idea what one was before) is a fancy rack with a blade that lets you slice vegetables easily. However, the nature of them is that you’re holding the vegetable in your hand and pushing down toward a blade, which is always a scary proposition.

And I knew that was dangerous, and yet I still had a moment of frustration and inattention, and paid for it by slicing off a chunk of skin about an eighth of an inch wide and maybe a half-inch long from right smack in the middle of the fingerprint on my right middle finger. (I also nicked the index finger, but that was just a band-aid level injury.) I don’t know how deep it was; not very, but enough to start bleeding quite freely and quite quickly. And it wouldn’t stop.

Fortunately for me, once she knew what was going on, A hit all the right responses. She handed me a roll of bandage (where that came from, I’ll never know) with which I wrapped any fingers with blood on them (most of the hand) enough to slow it down, and reminded me to elevate it. (I spent the next hour with my hand over my head.) She also handed me three ibuprofen and said, swallow these now, you’ll appreciate it later. We sat with it a few minutes waiting for it to stop, but when it became evident that it wasn’t stopping (there’s only so much you can bandage with what’s in the house) we decided I needed professional help.

I kept the thing elevated so long on the drive that it just about fell asleep, but didn’t drip blood on anything in the car. The ER doctor tried more or less the same steps we had, minus some of the guesswork and plus some better tools, but eventually he concluded that the best way to stop the bleeding with any confidence was to stitch it up. This required some anaesthesia to the finger, as well.

Because there wasn’t a whole lot of spare material to stitch together (I was thinking we should’ve used a patch, like you would on the knee of your pants) I’ve had the feeling, ever since, of wearing a glove where the one finger is a size or two too small. More recently, now that the bleeding has stopped for real, I feel like the stitches themselves hurt more than the cut; every time I accidentally bump the fingertip, I get a jolt like a static shock or a bee sting which I think is the stitches pulling. I will be very glad to have them out on Monday.

I’ll be even happier to have that fingertip back in use for typing, which will take a little longer. I can make pretty good speed now with nine fingers (the index finger is pretty much completely healed), but the other four on my right hand aren’t thrilled about all the extra work. I can’t figure out why the ring finger hurt unless it’s just sympathetic pain.

I have successfully chopped vegetables since then, however. But I used a knife and a cutting board like a normal person; that’s a tool I’m used to.

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April 24, 2008

A long wait for the doctor

One chore for this week was making an appointment to get the stitches removed. I called the office of the GP I used to see before I went to grad school.

It appears, however, that the ripple effect of our state’s universal-coverage law has reached his practice as it has many others. Because I hadn’t been in the office for three years (not quite true; I was there in July of ‘05) they considered me a “new patient.”

“And,” continued the appointments secretary, “our next available appointment for new patients is in January.”

That’s a long time to wait to have stitches removed. They suggested I go back to the emergency room to have them out, but the six-times-higher co-pay for ER visits made that a discouraging prospect. Fortunately, they decided to “take me back,” or I would’ve been calling all over the valley to find someone who could snip a few bits of thread in a hygienic manner for a reasonable price.

Now Playing: National Steel from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

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April 23, 2008

Iced tea

I have relatively few guidelines for my life, and those I do are more like biases than guidelines. One of them is that I maintain a strong bias in favor of buying beverages from front-lawn lemonade stands. (If I remember to carry cash while running, this bias begins to take the form of a rule.)

Yesterday afternoon, I bought a cup of iced tea from a pair of energetic young women (neither old enough to drive, I think, but one perhaps approaching her teens) who had thoroughly advertised their wares using sidewalk chalk for a hundred feet in either direction. They were closing up for the afternoon but were more than happy to pour me a cup and put a lid on for my walk in to town, not to mention a mint leaf.

It was sweet, slightly chilly, and very, very good. There was ball-point pen notation around the top of the cup telling me I’d done something good today.

They were donating their earnings to (I think) The Smile Train (warning: images meant to raise sympathy ahead), and though they had a little bar graph to show progress toward their funding goal, they had made woefully small progress. I think probably they were hoping to hit thousands and hadn’t made $100 on the iced tea yet.

But it was good, and I think I myself smiled more about it than the price of the beverage purchase might have warranted.

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April 22, 2008

The silent stakeholders

I just returned from listening to a politician with a Kenyan father explain why he refused to “go negative” in his campaign. This candidate, however, also had a Kenyan mother, and in his district, a President of African ancestry would be wholly unremarkable.

I donated to Edwin Macharia’s losing campaign for the Kenyan Parliament last year, and tonight he returned to the College to speak about the current state of Kenya. His perspective on that country was clear and interesting, particularly in that he sees a real and non-paternalistic role for Americans in the rebirth of his country.

There is a silent stakeholder in everything we do. When the credit market in the U.S. collapses, there’s a run on banks in Iceland. When the price of gas goes up, the cost of transporting food in Nigeria goes up—perhaps it becomes uneconomical.

And when politicians encourage negativity and violence, they find they must govern a cynical, violent people. When Americans burn coal to power their electric lights, they raise the global temperature and cause food crises in Africa. Macharia pointed out that even though the events of 1994 in Rwanda were the worst in that country’s history, that Rwanda and Burundi have seen mass murder on a 15-20 year cycle for decades—and that that cycle is coming due in the next few years. A food crisis in that district could spark another round of ethnic violence fueled by grudges and resentments harbored since ‘94. There are many who argue that environmental changes driven by global climate change led to the ongoing killings in Darfur. As Macharia noted, just because the Kenyans are (temporarily) no longer killing their neighbors, does not mean there aren’t other countries in flames across Africa.

Happy Earth Day?

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April 21, 2008

Weekend's work

Minus: Even though the finger generally feels better (a development curiously coinciding almost perfectly with the end of my supply of prescription-grade pain pills) it still hurts to type lots, so I can’t broadcast all the good stuff of this weekend. (I did get one story out yesterday with another coming from today. Pain enforced a somewhat more spare style than usual. I hear that worked for Chekhov, too.)

Plus: Not much time to write, anyway.

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April 16, 2008

Tonight's excuse

Sliced off a bit of finger while attempting to make dinner. Abandoned dinner in favor of six stitches in the ER. Typing without a full complement of fingers. Back soon.

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April 13, 2008

Who dopes, and why

Eddie asked in a comment, why do sprinters and throwers get busted for doping more often than distance runners? Do they dope less, or just get caught less?

I’d say, “both.” First, the payoff from most doping agents is greater in the speed and power events than in the endurance events. This is a fancy way of saying that the limiting factor of how far you can throw a little iron ball is how strong you are, and the limiting factor of how quickly you can cover 100m is how fast you are (both top-end speed and acceleration) and both of those limiting factors can be directly affected by things like anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and/or testosterone. Distance running is limited by so many different factors, from subtleties in physiology to simple matters of how quickly you can transfer oxygen from the air to your muscles, that doping offers fewer clear payoffs.

Second, because of the complications of doping for endurance, it’s harder to detect the performance-enhancing agents. Most of the ones that address endurance directly simply mimic the effects of being well-trained; some athletes use the strength/power agents (steroids) to allow them to train harder and recover faster, arriving at competitions free of the direct signs of doping but carrying the benefits of pharmaceutically-enhanced training. This is why out-of-competition random testing was created, but it probably makes the potential downside (the odds of getting caught) lesser for distance runners.

(The former East German sports complex supposedly used steroids this way, and 1976-1980 marathon gold medalist Waldemar Cierpinski supposedly appears on their doping records. However, the IOC has been less willing to pursue and redistribute the medals won through the wholesale abuse of the G.D.R. than they have been those won by Marion Jones.)

Most of the performance-enhancing substances used by distance runners, such as EPO (on the rise since the ’90s) and blood doping (favored in the ’70s and ’80s) are essentially taking existing biology and making it more so. EPO, for example, is made to treat cancer patients whose red blood cells have been decimated by chemotherapy; in a healthy athlete, it allows the blood to carry more oxygen. Cycling has been plagued by these agents because, oddly enough, the bicycle itself is a leveling agent, a mechanical means to erase the mechanical differences which would make one runner more efficient than another one with the same oxygen-transfer capabilities. There are new blood tests for EPO, but it’s still tough, and the testing is supposedly still lagging behind the alleged abusers.

But I think the first factor is the more important one, because the fact that doping agents aren’t as direct in distance running means that the general state of competition isn’t as distorted by them even if they are used pervasively as it is in the speed and power events (or cycling).

Which brings us to “why.” The classical profile of a doping athlete goes in two bins: the mediocre performer who suddenly breaks through with fantastic performances (e.g. Tim Montgomery,) or the longtime top performer who uses doping to extend their career (e.g. Maurice Greene, allegedly, or Regina Jacobs.)

Laurel points out a relevant Scientific American article (via 3 Quarks) which applies game theory to doping, mostly in cycling. The premise is that as long as they payoff for doping is high and the penalties relatively low, it will be pervasive, but that federations have the power (with some bold steps) to change the game between dirty and clean such that avoiding performance-enhancing substances is the smart choice. This means making the penalties draconian (which requires bulletproof testing, unfortunately) and making it easier for athletes to believe they can compete without doping. (Read the article for a better explanation of these suggestions.) These are things track (and particularly distance running) is doing much better than cycling, but for all the reasons already discussed, the game theory tips much less in favor of the dirty athlete in endurance events.

Now Playing: The Wake-Up Bomb from New Adventures In Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

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April 11, 2008

Found money report

Another year, another tin of loose change. The total was slightly down this year.

$7 in folding money this year (a five and two ones). Quarters overtook dimes in overall value, with 31 of them coming to $7.75. Only 68 dimes. 30 nickels; I have no idea why so few nickels turn up. (They’re also generally in better shape; some of the dimes and pennies are in remarkably tough shape.) 388 pennies, five of them barely recognizable as such. Grand total: $26.93. The foreign total is €.10 (actually found in Europe), £.02 (I assume that’s the value of a coin marked “2 New Pence”) and ¥1.

The previous two years’ worth of found money have earned $3.31 in interest since I started counting and depositing them.

Now Playing: Lost A Friend from Whiplash by James

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April 6, 2008

It helps to define "majority"

Massachusetts had its primaries months ago now, but yesterday the parties held caucuses to determine exactly who the delegates would be. A running-club friend of ours was hoping to be a delegate for my candidate, so I walked over to the College (where the caucus would be held in the old gym) and asserted that yes, I was registered with this party in this congressional district. (I voted in the local elections on Tuesday.)

A process which is obscure to me—I assume it happened at the state committee level—determined that we would select one male and two female delegates. The candidates had two minutes to make their pitch before we voted. After the five men spoke (one of them essentially asking people to vote for one of the others, not him) and we voted, the women spoke while the men’s votes were counted.

We did some quick arithmetic on the men’s tallies and determined that there were 98 people voting, a pretty small number considering the size of the district (and that this caucus was for the top vote-getter in the district in either party). After the four women spoke, we were instructed to write two names on our ballots; in response to questions, it was clarified that we could not vote twice for the same person, we could write just one name if we wished, and if we had two ballots (some people did) they could write one on each ballot.

As the votes were being counted, someone asked for more clarification about the process, and it was announced that any delegate must gain a majority to be selected; if nobody gained a majority, the lowest vote-getter would be taken out of the pool and we’d go again. This sounded fine, but then when the results were announced, they claimed that nobody had a majority. The totals were announced, however, and one of the women had 72 votes. Our friend was second with 46. (N.B. I may be mis-remembering these votes by a few, but I do have them within two or three.)

There were some murmurs, and I raised my hand. The moderator nodded to me, and I said, “It sounds to me like one of the candidates does have a majority. Unless there are over 144 of us voting, 72 should be enough.” At this point the parliamentarian stood up, glared at me, and said, “The candidates need a majority of votes cast,” or something along those lines.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “We were instructed not to vote twice for the same person. Even if we all voted for the same candidate, it would be impossible for anyone to get more than half the votes.”

(In hindsight, it would be possible if enough people only voted for one candidate, but this still doesn’t invalidate my assertion that this is a poor way to vote.)

I’m still not sure the parliamentarian understood the simple arithmetic involved, but he was mollified when someone offered to check the actual rules. The printed rules arrived to a round of applause, and it was determined that, in fact, a majority of voters, not votes, was required. It was still unclear exactly how many people had voted in that first round, but everyone seemed to accept that it wasn’t more than 140, and this candidate (who happened to be a sophomore(!) at the University) was elected to some applause.

Then we set to the second round, where we got one name per ballot, one ballot per voter. If none of the remaining three attained a majority, any candidate with less than 15% of the vote would be taken off the list and we’d do another round. That was, in fact, what happened, and our friend eventually lost on the third ballot, with her numbers declining with every round. (Hopefully not because of the loudmouth sitting behind her.) Her husband was doing the figures on the announced vote totals from the second round, though, and he figured there might have been few enough voters (i.e. fewer than 92) in the first round that her 46 would’ve constituted a majority then. We shrugged at each other, and headed home.

The local campaign is organizing volunteers to car-pool to Pennsylvania in the coming weeks to work for the primary there. I find this amusing both because Pennsylvania didn’t have a primary that meant anything in the five years I lived there, and because they’re actually going to my old area, working out of the Allentown headquarters. I’ll be in Boston that weekend, however.

Now Playing: Over-Ground from Into the West by Pilot Speed

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April 5, 2008

Pricing as incentive (or, why I still pay some bills by mail)

The online parking ticket payment I just mentioned is a great idea in concept: I sit down at my computer and pay my ticket, sparing me an envelope, a stamp, and whatever time it would take to write a check and mail the envelope.

In practice, it’s not so simple. For one thing, the system just throws errors; I gave up after two attempts to start the process were met by un-helpful error messages indicating some kind of software problem. (Probably it requires me to use IE on Windows, but (a) it doesn’t say so, and (b) even if it does, I won’t.) For another, they’re adding a $3.50 service charge to a $10 ticket.

Given a choice between paying a $10 ticket by mail and a $13.50 ticket online, I’m paying by mail. I’m guessing hundreds of others are making the same decision, and Northampton is probably not seeing mass adoption of their online ticket-paying system. This is disappointing to them, because if we pay the tickets online, they get $10, but if we pay by check, they get $10 minus the cost of opening all the envelopes and making the bank deposits.

But if they want tickets paid online, they should be reducing that service charge. 35% is too high; maybe they should try 10% and see how that does. (I’m betting a $3.50 surcharge doesn’t bother someone paying a $250 traffic fine, though.)

I ran in to the same thing with my taxes. Why should I cough up an extra $11.95 to e-file, when by doing so I’m going to be saving the government a chunk of money? If they want to encourage people to e-file, they need to provide a price incentive to move us that way. Imagine it costs the IRS $5 to handle every paper return, and $1 for every e-file. If they give a $2 discount for e-filers, they still save $2 per return e-filed, and they probably get hundreds more of them. Instead, they charge (or, they provide the service only through contractors who charge) and fewer people e-file.

(It does look like there are free services available, but only for people with adjusted gross income under $54,000. So I could’ve spared myself the agony.)

For an example of companies doing this the right way, see nearly any utility company. Every major electricity, gas, or telecommunications utility I’ve dealt with in the last few years has offered online bill payment for no extra charge. I’ve signed up, we’ve both enjoyed increased convenience, they’ve saved some money, and at least I haven’t paid extra.

If you want people to use the service which saves you money, price it so it saves them money, too.

Update: I sent email to the webmaster to point out that their site was broken. I just got a response: “The problem has been corrected. Please try again.” Um, no.

Now Playing: Попробуй спеть вместе со мной from Группа Крови by Кино

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Half-step behind

I was in Northampton yesterday to figure out what’s wrong with my left hip. (Diagnosis: I’m very tight in my psoas, piriformis, and a very short muscle with a three-word name and three-letter abbreviation I can’t remember.) Leaving the office, I was told to walk around a bit (like a lap around the block) rather than just sitting right down in my car.

Consequently, I arrived at my car just after the parking ticket was placed under the wiper. I guess I earned this one, since I was 15 or 20 minutes over the time, unlike my last parking ticket, where I was busted for being five minutes over time. Also, at least this time it was a parking meter, so the meter reader didn’t know how long I’d been over time; the previous ticket involved a time-stamped pass, so they knew my pass had only just expired when they ticketed me.

Plus, this is only a $10 ticket, and I can pay it online. It’s as though they’re trying to be punitive as agreeably as possible.

Now Playing: Video from Ben Folds Five by Ben Folds Five

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March 18, 2008

Five-digit envy

One of my sometime training partners referenced this story in the Glob, which lists the top-25 ZIP codes (inside 95/128, naturally) where “…neighbors are smart, restaurants are plentiful, commuting is easy, and, best of all, home values are still strong.” It’s an interesting list; the predictable tony suburbs are on there, but there are some (e.g. a section of Roxbury, noted for its “marked racial diversity”) which are a little less predictable. (The training partner who pointed this article out lives in a third-floor walkup in Inman Square, which is one of the three Cambridge ZIPs on the list.)

The trick here is that they’re citing all of these ZIPs as having “still strong” home values. And yet… the methodology is to look at prices from 2002 to 2007. I’m guessing this is because there isn’t enough solid data to go very far into 2008, and maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention, but isn’t any actual decline in home values a fairly recent thing? Even if it showed in 2007 numbers, isn’t it likely that nothing has slid all the way back to 2002 yet?

Seems to me that there’s a possibility some of these ZIPs aren’t quite as rock-solid as the Glob wants them to be.

(No, I haven’t looked to see where 01002 would stand in the list.)

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March 16, 2008

Yeah, yeah, yeah

I’m not sure what’s been behind the drought this week. I could blame last week’s enforced professional logorrhea, but it seems more likely that every time I have an idea which I feel like writing about, it grows into a thousand-word soliloquy before I have a chance to even start writing, and by that point it looks like more of a time suck than I’m ready to take on, so I don’t write at all.

I need more three-sentence posts.

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March 7, 2008

Out of time

I wrote four postcards yesterday (checking watch) uh, Thursday, sitting on a warm step in a sunny plaza with no better place to be. I put stamps on, but didn’t get them addressed until that evening.

I’ve spent all of today in the venue (literally from nine to eleven), and expect to do the same tomorrow. I also can’t be sure I’d know the difference between a mailbox and a recycling bin (that would be A Bad Thing). I suppose I’d better leave the cards with reception at the hotel, or I’ll be sending them from an airport.

An airport in Italy, with my luck. If not Logan.

Now Playing: You Don’t Know How It Feels from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

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February 20, 2008

Reminder band

It’s been a few years since everyone in Athens (or who wished they were in Athens) was wearing a $1 yellow rubber wristband with LIVESTRONG printed on it, and the yellow-bracelet fad has pretty much passed. The True Believers are the ones still wearing theirs, and you can get similar bands in nearly any color at the corner convenience store, sometimes as a fundraiser for something, sometimes not.

I’ve come by two in the last six months or so, despite having passed them up for nearly four years. I got an orange one when I registered for the fall foliage walk put on by Amherst’s A Better Chance chapter. (I ran the course in a bit more than two hours.) More recently, I got a purple one from Two Trials which I’ve been wearing nearly every day.

I’m not going to try to explain Two Trials in three sentences or less. Go read the story, and you’ll get the idea. I ran with Emily for a few miles during the 2000 Boston Marathon (that was before she got good, and I figured out that marathons are not for me), and she and her husband have been a real part of the Mid-coast Maine community in recent years. I made my contribution on the first day the site opened, Maddie’s fourth birthday.

The inside of the band has an url from the manufacturer—reminderband.com—and it doesn’t really lend itself to forgetting. It’s loose enough on my wrists that I sometimes wonder if I could get it around both wrists; it doesn’t stuff easily inside the cuffs of my shirts. Having it bumping around in there does remind me periodically to check in and see what kind of progress Emily and Maddie are making. They’re not quite halfway at this point, with two months to the Olympic Trials.

Now Playing: Providence from Acoustic & Intimate by Steve Kilbey

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February 6, 2008

Paying for those tickets

I suppose the airlines’ struggle to reach (or sustain) profitability this decade has led them to try to squeeze as much direct revenue from their frequent flyer programs as possible. (This is as opposed to the indirect revenue of supposedly motivating travelers to fly more often with them.)

What brings this to mind is the deluge of credit-card offers I’ve been getting tied to my several frequent-flyer memberships. (I have five with some amount of miles in them.) The credit-card companies probably pay the airlines some fee to be allowed to mail to their list; whether it’s a straight-out fee per flyer, or a bounty per member who actually signs up for a card, either way it’s revenue to the airline. I’ve been getting these offers for years, but the frequency of their arrival in my mailbox seems to have increased.

(Yesterday, I even got a solicitation to get an affinity card for US Masters Swimming, but they’re a non-profit, so the “help us generate revenue” pitch can be a good bit more up-front.)

I feel a good bit of cognitive dissonance about this, considering that we’re being hammered with news stories telling us how our borrowing habits have led the country to the brink of recession. (If you haven’t had this connection traced out for you already, ask; I won’t do it right now.) On the one hand, it’s entirely reasonable for a company to say, “Wow, American consumers borrow a lot; is there a way we can make money from this?” But the idea of using a national problem like this for specific gain feels a lot like marketing liquor specifically to alcoholics, and the consumer who signs up for the credit cards is like someone curing a hangover with “the hair of the dog.”

On a more personal level, I’ve never signed up for one of these cards. On one hand, I must look like a great potential customer, because I’ve never defaulted on a loan, but since several years ago I’ve also made a point of never carrying a balance on a card if I can help it, so I seldom pay interest. Also, these cards almost invariably carry an annual fee, and why would I want a credit card with an annual fee when it’s so easy to find ones without?

Now Playing: Lucinda from Glitter In the Gutter by Jesse Malin

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February 5, 2008

The paralysis of choice

This has certainly been a delicious political season for those who enjoy that sort of thing. I’ve read a lot of impassioned arguments in favor of one candidate or another, but I’ve also read a remarkable number of people saying, “I know this is really important, and I just can’t decide how to vote.”

(I was amused to discover, using the electoral compass, that Ron Paul was third on my ordered list of candidates closest to my personal beliefs, but given that they only recognize six remaining candidates, I suppose that doesn’t mean much.)

I wonder if the rampant undecidedness has much to do with fact that so many states are actually holding primaries while there’s still some contest for both parties’ nominations. This is the first time in my voting lifetime (this will be my fifth presidential election) that I’ve had the opportunity to vote in a primary that meant something. While I think the telescoping of the nomination process is a good thing—I wouldn’t mind seeing a single, national primary on one day—I wish it might be a little closer to the general election. (Maybe a six-week gap, max, between that national primary and the general election?)

And I wonder if the ability to examine candidates critically, rather than in red-party/blue-party duality, has atrophied in some of these electorally-big states like New York and Massachusetts. We’re so used to having candidates delivered to us by the parties—if you’re Red, get behind this guy, Blue, go this way—that we’re not used to considering our positions carefully.

So, I’m all in favor of contested primaries. I expect I’ll still be voting for the politician I dislike least in the end, and I don’t doubt which direction this state’s electoral votes will go in the general election, but somehow the existence of a primary which isn’t pointless makes me feel oddly hopeful.

Now Playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

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February 4, 2008

Residential trade-offs

Living in a university town has benefits, without question. The wide array of services aimed at the students and their sometimes-visiting parents far outstrip anything that would arise to serve the residents of the town alone.

The downside—or at least part of it—seems to include a police helicopter cruising the neighborhood around the end of major sporting events, and articles in the newspaper explaining what the town and campus police departments are planning in order to restrain rioting.

Now Playing: Another Day at Bay from Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight by Marah

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January 31, 2008

Choose your disaster

I left the house at 6 AM yesterday, with plans to catch a train around 8 in New Haven, arriving in Grand Central around 10 for a 10:30 meeting. I stopped at a drive-through ATM on my way through town to pick up some cash, having all of $1 in folding money with me. Put my card in the slot, and with a hum the machine slurped it up…

…and did precisely nothing. Nothing on the screen, no responses to buttons, silence. I pushed buttons at random for a few minutes, then arrived at the conclusion that missing my meeting would have larger consequences than losing my ATM card. So I abandoned it.

I was upset about this for an hour or so, but I changed my mind as I approached Hartford. At the left ramp where people heading south on 91 exit for 84 East, someone in a white sedan appeared to have missed the turn completely. There wasn’t much visible damage to the car, but the crash-protection barrels were in disarray and the car’s airbags appeared to have been triggered. The driver looked like they were on their cell phone, hopefully calling 911.

I decided that, given the alternatives, I was happy with my own misfortune and didn’t want to trade.

(For the record, the bank canceled my card and is sending me a new one.)

Now Playing: When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty from Drums And Wires by XTC

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January 25, 2008

Long team == short list

Bicycling doesn’t manage its Olympic team selection the way track and field does, so the announcement of a “long team” is a phenomena we don’t have. The “long team” is something like a relay pool: it’s the group of athletes that USA Cycling will eventually select its actual Olympians from. A short-list for the Olympic team, I suppose; I guess the comparable track level would be making the Olympic Trials final, but there will be more women in the 1,500m final in Eugene than are on the track cycling long team.

I mention this because one of my former co-workers made the long team. This is particularly exciting because Liz came to pro cycling through Masters competition—that is, she developed her talent in races for people considered too old for peak competition, then stepped back into open racing. This is unusual, to say the least.

Also somewhat ironic: If all the right breaks happen and Liz makes the final team, there will be more former RW employees in Beijing than current ones. If there’s any question that we had a whale of a team there in the late ’90s, this is a pretty strong argument.

Now Playing: The End from Everything Changed by Abra Moore

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January 23, 2008

Looks like you're doing very well

Mention of a mutual acquaintance prompted Coach to tell a story this evening.

Apparently he was invited to a reception at said mutual acquaintance’s house in New York, connected with some big running event. Upon arrival, Coach noticed only one woman in the room. I don’t recall his exact words in describing her, but I gathered that her physical appearance was striking. “Who is she?” he asked the bartender, and learned that apparently she worked for the JogBra company. (I don’t know if that was actually the company name, but I think there was once such a brand.)

Within a minute, of course, Coach wound up being introduced to this woman, and proceeded to do so by saying, “I’m Bill S——, running coach. How do you support yourself?”

He claims that this line wound up in the New York Times, but also told us how she got him back.

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January 19, 2008

I should stop shoveling that walk

Back on January 3, I got an email from an online retailer assuring me that my order had been sent. I told A to look out for its delivery, then promptly forgot about it.

Yesterday, she reminded me, pointing out that nothing had ever arrived. This morning, I logged on to the delivery company’s website, armed with the tracking number, to find out what was going on.

Acting on the data from that page, I got up and opened the back door (which we never use, due to the danger of a cat-break) to retrieve the package from inside the storm door, where it had been sitting for twelve days.

Now Playing: Don’t Wait That Long from Seven by James

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January 6, 2008

On elections

In 2007, I did something I’ve never done before: I contributed to a political campaign.

No, I haven’t contributed to the money machine of the American presidential campaign. I gave about $100 (total across two contributions) to the campaign of Edwin Mwangi Macharia, who was running for parliament in Kenya. Macharia, a graduate of the College, wound up finishing third of fourteen candidates in the running for the Kieni constituency, a primarily rural Kenyan constituency north of Nairobi. The incumbent was second.

The Kenyan election has made headlines since, of course, with rioting and charges of corruption sweeping the country. This is not uncommon around the world, of course, and the fact that this is happening in a relatively stable East African country (and one which many Americans have at least some familiarity with, of course, through their highly successful export of distance runners) is partly responsible for the attention being paid. That said, Macharia’s roundup of the election is eye-opening. I’ve added emphasis:

“Heavy negative propaganda by opponents as well as significant sums of monies being given to entice voters took their toll but we refused to respond in kind, remembering that principles are only sentiments until they are applied in the face of pressure. In the final tally we came in 3rd, behind the front runner who garnered a commanding lead, and [the incumbent] who despite spending an incredible amount of money the night before buying voters only managed just over 2000 votes more than we did.”

How on earth do you run a clean, principled campaign in a climate where a significant number of voters expect to be paid for their vote? In a relatively poor nation, how do you convince people to cast their vote for you rather than the guy who offered them money? And how do you expect people to have any faith at all in the results? If anything, I’m amazed that the cynicism that system must breed has left enough voters concerned about the results to round up a respectable riot.

And I’m amazed that half of the eligible American voters don’t bother to show up and vote… and to what degree we take for granted what is, despite two hundred years of more-or-less successful operation, an incredibly fragile system.

Now Playing: Half Life from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

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December 31, 2007

Warm spot

Am I getting enough work done here? How can I?

Warm spot

Maybe I’ll do better next year? (I suppose it was working that warmed up the laptop for him, after all…)

Now Playing: Injustica from Building 55 by Kathleen Edwards

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December 27, 2007

Half-decade

Warm spot

It was five years ago today that we went up to Dakin and came home with a sociable little brown tiger with no fear and an outsized appetite for nearly everything. After five years of purring, sleeping in the warm spots, and wheedling for more food, Iz isn’t little anymore, but his attitude of friendly insolence is the same as it was on day one.

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December 14, 2007

How we treat our neighbors

Around Boston, we like to kid a bit about how in Southie, they’ll slash your tires if you park in a shoveled spot that’s marked with something—a chair, a garbage can, whatever.

The idea behind marking the spots is that the person who did the shoveling should get the benefit. But various municipal officials (mayors, etc.) make noises about having garbage trucks pick up the markers, because parking gets wicked tight when there’s nowhere to throw the snow; you wind up losing one in every three spots (if you’re lucky) just to stack the snow.

It looks like Somerville is a lot closer to Southie than I thought. As I walked up to work around lunchtime, I saw a lot of trash cans and sawhorses marking spots in the street. And I spotted something too large to be a ticket on a car window. Amused, I snapped a shot with the phone:

Hmm, that's not a ticketUnsigned note

And then the owner came out. Thomas told me he had lived up the street for ten years, but this was a rental car so his neighbors must not have known it was his. He noted that there should have been room for two cars where he was parked, but that only one spot had been shoveled out. And then, folding the note up, he said, “I’d take a note like this more seriously if it was signed. They don’t sign because they are cowards.”

I can sympathize with wanting to have the spot you shoveled available when you come back, but aren’t anonymous notes a little… I don’t know, passive-aggressive? There’s plenty of street out there, folks, even if you can only park on one side of it right now. Shovel a bit more of it (but hurry, it’s going to set up like concrete tonight.) Pitch in for other people and maybe they’ll let you park in their spot someday. That’s the benefit of sharing, instead of staking out your own little patch and hissing at anyone who comes near.

(And maybe we should all consider fewer cars and more alternatives. I wouldn’t want to take my bike out last night, but today it was fine.)

Now Playing: Never Enough from Show by The Cure

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December 12, 2007

If all else fails I can get a job as a handyman

WD-40 failed to make keys turn any more easily in the front-door deadbolt, so I removed the blasted thing and replaced it. I suspect this may have been a perfect home-improvement project, as I got to visit the hardware store, employ both WD-40 and a screwdriver, and get my hands greasy to boot, while A was left to explain to our landlord why we now have different keys for the front and side doors—and possibly why we made the repair without checking first. (But the door locks without pliers now.)

Now Playing: A Girl Like You from 11 by The Smithereens

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December 6, 2007

No more paper newsletters from the IAAF

While I confess some pleasure in the false romance of regular mail from Monaco, I’m pleased to read that the IAAF newsletter will no longer be printed and mailed, but only available online. What’s the point of using all that paper and postage (and packaging, given that the eight-page newsletter was frequently mailed sheathed in plastic, as some magazines are) when most of the enclosed news has been available on the website for weeks by the time the newsletter arrives?

There are places for magazines in this world—I happen to think that airplane seat-pockets are one of them—but a newsletter like this one is really much more useful as an online publication than as paper.

Now Playing: Dear Madam Barnum from Nonsuch by XTC

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December 4, 2007

Not for the same reasons...

…but it appears that the Mass Highway has decided that overpasses can’t be signboards anymore. They’re citing safety issues, not the “THIS IS LITTERING” counter-sign I saw a few years ago, though. Some sign-posters are claiming not to understand; if the sign is “behind a fence,” they say (I assume this means “attached to the overpass-facing side of a fence, facing the highway”) then Mass Highway told them it would be OK. I’m sympathizing with Mass Highway here: such signs may be less likely to wind up on the highway, but little is stopping them from blowing into cars on the overpass itself. Plus, do we really want to see car dealerships and real estate agents posting their banners on the overpasses?

Now Playing: Criminal from Tidal by Fiona Apple

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December 3, 2007

Secret message to the guy who pushed me out of my parking spot on Amity Street this afternoon

…thanks. I would’ve been able to rock my ground-clearance-challenged car out of the too-snowy spot eventually, but the extra push probably saved me a few minutes of frustration.

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November 27, 2007

The Breadman lets me down

My breadmaker won’t knead. Actually, it will; it does fine with small loads, like my pizza dough. But if I give it a full-sized loaf it quits turning the paddle. I can hear the gears turning inside, but something’s slipping somewhere under the resistance of the dough.

This is frustrating for several reasons. One, I got up this morning planning to put a loaf in and then go out and run; instead, I wasted an hour trying to get the dough to knead, and wound up cutting my run short and buying a loaf of bread at the Foodmaster on the way home. Two, I wind up taking perfectly good and useful ingredients and turning them into a useless lump of not-bread; I’ve done this a few times now, before I figured out how bad the situation was.

Three, I’m frustrated that somewhere, we made a decision to dedicate resources (plastic, metal, electronics, cash) to a very specialized piece of machinery which doesn’t last beyond three years of use. This is a big hunk of appliance; my choices now are to open it up and try to fix it myself (a questionable proposition, but one I’m toying with,) put it on Freecycle looking for someone else to fix it (probably the safest route,) or just throw it out (an idea which makes me cringe: what a waste!) Why couldn’t we make something more durable?

Certainly replacing it with yet another bread machine seems like a bad bet. I really need to retrieve my loaf pan from Amherst and make my bread a more old-fashioned way. (Or make my week’s bread while in Amherst.)

Now Playing: Dan Takes Five from In the Land of Salvation and Sin by The Georgia Satellites

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November 20, 2007

Scheduling the pieces

After the races were over, while the successful athletes were collecting their trophies, a few of us from the media stood in the back and did what we do best: complain. (Writing is second on the list, actually.)

At Nationals, as with every big meet I’ve had experience with, there’s an annual alternation of the race order between men and women. This year, for example, the men’s race was first. However, with live TV this year, the schedule was a little compressed. There was a 50-minute gap between the start of the men’s race and the start of the women’s race, and since the slowest men take about 35 minutes to run 10km, I barely had time after the men’s race to get to the media center and dump photos to A’s laptop before returning to the course to shoot the women’s race.

The meet’s media organization, however, persisted in running post-race interviews with the top three finishers in the men’s race—delayed by the ‘necessity’ of television interviews, of course—immediately after that race, which meant that (a) I and several other reporters missed them entirely, and (b) the women’s race started while the interviews were still underway.

Now it’s hypothetically easy for the athletes to wait through the twenty-plus minutes of the women’s race; they may even prefer the chance for a cool-down. The handicap becomes drug-testing. There’s a time limit between the end of the race and when athletes must report to drug testing, and they need to fit all their media responsibilities in there. For WADA, it’s an hour, but the NCAA drug-testing isn’t run by WADA, and in theory, they could schedule this a bit better.

(N.B. Yes, I’ve been quiet this week. I’ve been too busy to write up the appropriate thoughts when they’ve crossed my mind; I may stay that way for a few weeks, too.)

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November 14, 2007

Just happy to be here

My training, right now, could be best described as irregular. I try to get out six days a week, and I try to do more than an hour when I feel like it, but I don’t if I don’t. I’m plateaued at this particular level, without the time or energy to devote to pushing beyond it; I’m using that energy elsewhere.

The unusual structure comes from the once-a-week training group I’ve been running with for about sixteen months now. I’ve never been a centerpiece here, since I signed up to be A’s rabbit, and lately I’ve been running with either the low-mileage middle-distance women or the 25-year-old with significantly faster PRs. (He’ll spot me eight or ten seconds, then blow by me midway through each repeat.) Most of us are there for the coach, who has a bigger name than any of us and tells some entertaining stories.

Last week, for example, it was just me, the young guy, and Coach. They arrived together—Dan drives Coach, who can’t see well enough to drive after dark—and both of them joined my warmup, which is unusual. He wanted to talk about the Trials the previous weekend, and neither Dan nor I were eager to prod him to start the workout. We wound up running close to an hour with him, more than he’d run in two years, he said, and we didn’t do any workout to speak of.

This weekend, on two of my runs in Amherst, I passed a (relatively) young man who lives in our neighborhood and gets around in a wheelchair. It’s obviously one of these heavy, hard-to-move wheelchairs made by designers who expect people in wheelchairs to be pushed everywhere, but I see him struggling to push himself around the sidewalks while someone else walks beside him. I don’t know what I would say when I go by—is he enjoying the struggle, or is he fighting something? What does he see in me when I go by?—so it’s a good thing nobody really expects me to say anything.

This week, we moved indoors, and I put my spikes back on. Between repeats, I kept tripping as I would catch my feet on the track; it’s a miracle I didn’t go down. Dan and I were both laughing about it by about the third repeat. “Coach,” I said, “I need to get going; I keep tripping over my own feet when I slow down!”

I was grinning when I took off, and I was still grinning halfway around the track. My legs felt good, tired but not burning, I was on my toes and moving pretty well, and I thought, why wouldn’t I be smiling? I’m still able to come out on a Wednesday evening and push myself, apply a little force to the world and get it back through a pair of shoes with teeth. I can run 800m repeats, right on the edge between endurance and speed, even if neither are what they were five years ago. I can move around the world on my own two feet. Why wouldn’t I be happy about that?

Now Playing: The Only One I Know from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

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November 12, 2007

And another weblog

I have another blog now. We recently added tools to Common Kitchen to allow all our users to run blogs on the site, not unlike the journals of last.fm users. Because the site is set up to require sources for recipes, we needed a way for users to list recipes for which they didn’t know the source. The solution we settled on was to create weblogs which would, in essence, provide a source for every recipe posted in them.

I’m not a tenth the cook Audrey is, of course, but I had to post a few things—like the detailed pizza recipe from my pizza—just in the name of testing, of course. I’ll post more when it occurs to me. If you’re interested in sharing your kitchen experience, come on over. Trust me, I’ve set a pretty low bar.

Now Playing: Next to the Last Romantic from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

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November 9, 2007

Distracting the audience

I went to the Bruins-Canadiens game at the Garden last night with this lot (and others). I noticed something about the Garden between periods which explains a lot to me about why hockey is definitely the fourth sport in Boston now (and may be on its way to fifth, with the Revs in the MLS Cup yet again.)

The new Garden has a nice, big scoreboard with massive video monitors on all four sides. There’s a ring of narrow video displays around the top and a smaller ring around the bottom. Then, at the front of the balcony, all around the Garden, is a matching ring of video displays, creating a seamless “crawl” around the entire arena, with this glowing, dancing thing in the middle. When the sponsor on those displays changes (or even when the blue beer-logo display fills up with golden beer) the entire color scheme of the area changes.

We’re motion-watching animals. We focus on the biggest, brightest moving thing in our field of vision. And the builders of the Garden deliberately put a lot of bright, moving advertisements in to grab the attention of the captive audience (which, let’s not forget, paid good money to be there.) The advertisements were a constant distraction from the game we’d paid to see. If I hadn’t been making a conscious effort to watch the game on the ice, it would’ve been so easy to watch the video screen on the scoreboard the whole time, including ad after ad after ad. (You’ll notice that I’ve carefully avoided using the name of the bank which is the “naming sponsor” of the Garden.)

At this point, why not stay at home and watch the game on TV? Heck, why watch the game? When you pay attention, the Bruins are pretty pathetic; they pass, as Bostonist said, “like they just met each other yesterday.”

And it’s pretty obvious that the team and Garden management don’t really care if we’re watching, either, as long as they get paid for the ads.

Now Playing: He’s Got An Answer from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo

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November 7, 2007

Getting the tickets

Nicole linked this BusinessWeek story about Olympic tickets in China.

I clicked the link thinking about the IAAF staff, and how they grumbled about empty seats in the stands during the evening sessions in Osaka, and how the Helsinki fans were so dedicated. And certainly BusinessWeek does a good job with the task at hand, comparing Beijing ticket sales with those in Athens.

But then I drifted back to my first international track meet. Not the ‘99 World Championships, but the 1994 Goodwill Games (remember the Goodwill Games?), which were conveniently held in St. Petersburg, where I happened to be attempting to kick-start my Russian language skills. (I failed, but the trip was still worth it.) I don’t recall what ticket prices were in dollars, nor what they might have cost had I attempted to buy them in the States; I remember that in rubles, they were pretty attainable, at least for those of us who bought our rubles with real dollars.

I went with a small group of fellow students to the Games headquarters on the north side of the Neva to buy tickets. We didn’t have to wait in line very long, but then we filled out forms identifying ourselves and what tickets we wanted. I was the only one interested in track (nearly all of us went to a night of figure skating, a surreal sight in the sweltering summer Piter had that year.) I got two tickets in the “cheap seats,” close to the front but about 20m around the first corner, and took the daughter of the family I was staying with. No problems; the Russians were largely disinterested in the “Games of Good Will” except as a means of attracting tourists, and most of them remained out in the countryside if they possibly could.

When the competition day arrived, we brought cookies and bananas and sandwiches, and saw the women’s 100m and men’s 800m and 10,000m. Maybe there was some pole vaulting going on. Her hero was Irina Privalova, but I think Gail Devers won the 100m. Marc Coogan (I think?) and Ed Eyestone ran the 10,000m for the USA; it was won by a Moroccan, I think, but the Russian was second, and when he came to the finish line I heard the crowd chanting, “Mo - lo - DYETS!” which translates as something close to “Good job!” I hollered “Good job, Ed!” to Eyestone as they walked off the track, and he looked back up at me; some years later, when he was meeting the RW staff and I went on a lunchtime run with him, I reminded him of that, and neither of us were surprised that he remembered the race but not some random guy in the stands who yelled to him afterwards.

A few days later, the women’s 10,000m was on TV, and my host-father and I watched at the kitchen table. I think there was an Ethiopian or Kenyan woman who ran away with the race, but Gwyn Coogan and the Russian entrant dueled to the line for second, and the two of us—who could only barely communicate, given my weak grasp of his language—rose from our seats, yelling at the screen and pounding on the table, and for a few moments we understood each other with perfect clarity.

I think it was probably possible to pick up a few last-minute tickets to the World Championships in Osaka, if you happened to have been in town, but the price probably wouldn’t have been as cheap as those ruble tickets in Petersburg. I wonder if it has ever been possible to get such tickets to the Olympics—at least, in the last twenty or thirty years?

Now Playing: In Between Days from Speed Graphic (EP) by Ben Folds

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November 5, 2007

Call it even?

I may have to bury a longtime grudge.

Every time I’ve moved inside Massachusetts, I’ve had to tangle with the RMV. They’re a wily bunch; they make some things easy (changing address can be done on their website, and they then send you stickers to apply to your license and registration.) Then they make other things really, really tough.

My last two moves were both at the beginning of September, which ran me in to a rough coincidence: I needed to change address with my insurance company and the RMV, plus renew my insurance (at the new address, with a different premium,) and renew my car registration. In both cases, the complications with the insurance company meant that the RMV demanded confirmation that I was actually insured before renewing my registration; I needed to schedule a trek out to Waltham for a stamp from the insurance company. (There must be a more efficient method for doing this. I’ve done it twice now, and it’s tedious, pointless busywork for all involved.)

I managed to jump all the hoops in 2005, but this year things were too hectic, and I didn’t get around to getting the stamp and mailing the registration form until last week, when a policeman asked me to move the car due to construction on the street and noted, “By the way, your registration has expired.”

So I got the stamp that day, and got the registration in the mail. Deed done, no problem.

Today, on my way back to Somerville, a town policeman followed me for a way—just pulled up behind me, I think, but then he must have noticed that I didn’t have up-to-date stickers on my plates. (I’ve occasionally gone a few weeks between getting the stickers and getting them on the plates, also not a good practice.) So he blinked his lights, and I pulled over and provided license and (gulp) registration. “This has expired,” he said. I explained that the check, so to speak, was in the mail. He was unimpressed.

But then he came back from the cruiser and gave me back the papers and nothing else a warning. Turns out the RMV backed me up; my renewal was already in the system, and all I was guilty of was not being able to prove that my registration was valid.

So I suppose I can’t grumble so much about the hoops I had to jump through to keep it so.

Now Playing: The Disillusionist from Priest = Aura by The Church

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October 29, 2007

Only in New England...

…can we be cranky about winning, for pity’s sake.

Eric Wilbur’s sports blog entry in the Globe is worth reading because it has some cute images—waking up his three-week-old son to watch the Sox win the World Series—but his central point, that Red Sox Nation is top-heavy with dilettantes who don’t understand what it means to be frustrated for decades, is a little too wrong-headed for me to get along with.

Sure, the Sox have plenty of new fans since ‘04, but what did ‘05 and ‘06 do to bring them in? Sure, plenty of old-school fans get annoyed about pink or green Red Sox hats “that allow them to better match with their evening apparel.” (Not me, by the way. I wouldn’t go there myself, but if my nieces want pink Sox hats, let ‘em have ‘em. Doesn’t change the way I feel about the team.)

The problem isn’t “Johnny-come-lately fans,” as Wilbur implies. The problem, if there is one, is this curious belief that there’s a “right way” to be a fan, and if not everyone does it right, it somehow devalues everyone’s appreciation of the game. Does that sound ridiculous to you? If I may risk being a little too heavy, that’s like saying that there’s only one “right way” to be religious, and anyone who does it differently is devaluing the faith of those who do.

Especially in New England, a part of the country which has long been fond of the idea that one’s relationship with God was a private matter not for public display, this dogmatic intolerance in the Church of Baseball smells ugly to me.

And wishing all these “new fans” could wait 86 years for a World Series victory, so they too could have “a lifetime of emotion in the waiting,” as Wilbur says, is just sadistic. Should we now require all new baseball fans to serve apprenticeships as Cubs fans?

Now Playing: Crashin’ In from The Charlatans by The Charlatans

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October 25, 2007

Generic World Series post

Can I just do this once, and re-post it for the duration of the series?

What a game last night! How’d you like that -inning shot by ? And wasn’t it great to see back again?

I was a bit nervous there when but boy, the Sox have their act together now. I wish my could see this. We’re gonna win it in .

And not a moment too soon. I think I’m gonna scream if I have to see another one of those ads. I’m going to be useless at work today after only hours of sleep. Can’t they start these games so they finish before ?

Now Playing: Weathervane (Live at the Somerville Theater) by Kris Delmhorst

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October 21, 2007

The Sox via Ohio

It’s still the seventh inning, but I’m back in Somerville. I hopped from FM station to FM station tracking first five innings; as the Maine affiliate started to flicker, I picked up New Hampshire. That worked well for a while, but as I got closer to Boston they started flickering as well. Eventually, after 95 joined 128, I found myself unable to pick up the game on FM.

So I flipped to AM. I’d caught a few innings of Game 1 on AM on my way out to Amherst last weekend, so I was still on a baseball station, and the game was there… but something was odd. The announcer was strangely elated about Manny striking out at the bottom of the fifth. Then the ads came on, and I realized: I was listening to a Cleveland station.

So I listened to the sixth inning from Cleveland. I realize I probably could’ve gone down to 680 and picked up WRKO, but it was almost like listening in another language (except that I could understand everything they were saying.) There was something beautifully unreal about it.

I suppose this just underlines what kind of fan I am: I follow the Sox through the year, but more on a weekly than a daily basis, and I don’t actually start watching the games until well into the postseason. But I am pretty old-school; I’d rather listen on the radio than watch on TV, though I suppose I’d prefer to be at the game. I think it’s because I associate the radio broadcasts with my grandmother, who used to sit in her dining room with the Sox on during the summer, listening to WBZ clear up the coast. So I may not be a fanatic… but I’ve been at this a good long time.

Now Playing: BOS vs. CLE, ALCS Game 7, bottom of the 7th, two run homer for Pedroia!

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Sox o' Lantern

Sox o' Lantern

This is my brother’s jack-o-lantern. I told him he needed to have it lit tonight, because if they lose Game 7 it will have a pretty short shelf life. (I did another cat for my nieces.)

I’m getting ready to drive back to Somerville, probably listening to the game in the car. I had to post this before I left, because it may be obsolete in a few hours.

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October 7, 2007

Lots of teams means lots of teammates

As running goes, I am pretty lucky. Not only that I’m able to do it at all, but in the people I’ve come in contact with simply because of my (relatively) long participation in the sport.

Through today’s half marathon, from arrival before the start to departure, I was running in to people I know professionally, including three different members of the marathon bike spotters team.

A member of one iteration of our Reach the Beach relay team was at the eight-mile water stop. Spotting and recognizing him took my mind off feeling sorry for myself (that was the race’s rough part, for me) for a few minutes, which was great.

And in the finishing chute, I was greeted by a college teammate who had finished around the time I was passing the twelve-mile mark. Another person I was pleased to see.

When I was running PRs and racing to win, I used to wonder what motivation I would have for training and racing when my times were hopelessly slower. I don’t think I’m washed up for good yet—another year or so of consistency may bring a breakthrough that would pull me back to PR territory—but several of my races this fall have given me clues about why I’ll keep at it once I am.

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September 27, 2007

Missing tools

During the great relocations back in August, I sent most of the kitchenwares out to Amherst with A. After all, I reasoned, D wasn’t going to be taking all his kitchen with him out to Pittsburgh for the fall, right?

The reasoning was sound, but the judgement, perhaps, was not. I learned this last night when I tried to make pizza dough and discovered that the kitchen has two liquid measures, but no dry-measure cups and no measuring spoons.

Now Playing: Antenna from Starfish by The Church

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September 20, 2007

What time is it?

At some indeterminate time between yesterday and today, 19,000m over the North Atlantic, I (re)read these sentences in Pattern Recognition:

… “I’m so tired I’m not sure I know what it’s like not to be, jet lag seems like a luxury of those who don’t travel much, and I feel like I’ve been beaten with rubber hoses.”

And I thought, “Yeah, I can identify with that.”

Currently six hours ahead of whatever equilibrium I’d managed to reach in the past two or three weeks. Accreditation and press conferences don’t happen until tomorrow. I’m thinking of going for a run, then forcing myself to go downtown until dinnertime (assuming I can find “downtown”) and only then allowing myself more sleep.

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September 11, 2007

Playing at work

On Friday I discovered that some time between when I left for Japan and, well, Friday afternoon, someone or some thing had pushed in the right front quarter panel of my car, right behind the front tire, in such a way that the passenger’s door would only open a few inches before catching on the panel in front of it.

This afternoon, out doing some other errands, I stopped at a body shop which had done some work on the car a few years ago. “I’m looking for advice,” I said. “Is it even worth calling this in to my insurance company, considering my deductible? Am I looking at a few hours or a few days?”

The guy from the office looked thoughtful for a minute, and said, “Do you want it good as new? Or do you want it to work?” I pointed at the softball ding behind the passenger’s door, and the dent over the rear window, and said, “It’s not going to be perfect; I want it to work and the car to go another 100,000 miles.”

He walked over to the open garage door and grabbed a rag of a towel and a thin tool that looked like a putty knife, and came back to my car. He wrapped the blade of the tool in the towel, inserted it in the gap between the door and the fender, and gently pried under the fender. POP! Most of the dent came out. He tested the door, then pried it a bit more. This time the door opened all the way, and it was pretty hard to tell there was a dent in the fender to begin with; the only sign is a sliver-moon shaped scuff in the paint.

“You’re all set,” he said, returning the tools to the garage. “Just remember us if you need any more work done.”

As I drove home, I thought about how sometimes it’s gratifying to be able to do the easy parts of your work—for a chef to make a grilled-cheese sandwich, for an electrical engineer to wire up an indicator light, for a mechanic to change a tire. For a web programmer to wire up an un-complicated little page.

I remembered the passage in Once A Runner where a high jumper, half loaded, is jumping over standards made of a broomstick and coat-racks into a pile of mattresses, finding once again the play in his event.

And it must seem like play, too, when the simple parts of your job let you perform tasks which seem monumental to normal people. Like removing a dent.

Now Playing: Good + Bad Times from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

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September 8, 2007

Communicating the objective

The Amherst house has a mouse. The hole or nest appears to be under the oven in the kitchen; A and I both saw it scoot out from under the oven and into the space under the bookshelves, and then back a minute or two later.

The Amherst house also has a mouser. He’s the only one in the house who has yet to spot the mouse. I’m hoping that the mouse has spotted him, and decided perhaps there are better places to nest, but if it hasn’t, I hope Iz gets some entertainment out of it.

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September 1, 2007

Psychosomatic

I’ve been so busy since competition started that even on the day with no morning session, I managed to forget to shave. Today, I found the annoying stubble that’s grown in that week so pathetic that I took some time out of my nap to shave it off.

It’s not too surprising that I now look less tired. It’s more surprising that I now feel less tired.

Before and after:

BeforeAfter

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August 26, 2007

Jackpot!

Honestly, if you’d asked me three hours ago I would’ve told you I’m never the winner—that sometimes when I buy Cracker Jacks, there’s no prize inside. Particularly prediction contests. (Remember this contest? Yeah, strikeout.)

So I was somewhat surprised when Tyson Gay crossed the line first in 9.85, thereby winning me 36,000 yen.

I need a new self-image, no? Come to think of it, this being an international contest, maybe USATF needs to add me to their medal table.

Update: Check the comments; here’s the link.

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August 20, 2007

The culinary adventures of...

Eating is always chancy right before a move. Supplies in the kitchen get sparse as I try to eat down the grocery stock rather than buying supplies I’d just need to move. Menus, therefore, get a little constrained.

So for lunch today, I fried* a pizza. I put a tortilla on the skillet, then added a layer of tomato sauce, some toppings and all the remaining mozzarella cheese. I kept the heat on, shuffling the pizza a bit now and then to keep it from sticking, until the tortilla was crisp and the cheese was melted. It wasn’t bad; I probably should’ve used a bit less sauce (or thicker sauce) but I was pleased with how well it went. Baking is overkill for a quick lunch like that, and also, I figure whatever Roman legionary first cooked crushed tomatoes and cheese on flatbread wasn’t working with a good hot oven.

* Audrey and Noah tell me that since oil wasn’t involved—I just plunked the assembled “pizza” down on a non-stick skillet—I can’t call it “frying.” But since my personal lexicon includes “frying pan” as a synonym for “skillet,” I figure any cooking done on a “frying pan” must be frying, right? Anyway, that sounds like more fun.

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August 16, 2007

Ghost town

It’s odd enough to be living in a more-or-less empty apartment. However, adding to the mood, the removal of furniture exposed a fair amount of cat hair which had accumulated behind and underneath the pieces. Despite aggressive vacuuming, breezes in the open windows mean the apartment sometimes appears to have tumbleweeds.

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Grass

Football has already begun to take over the track we sometimes use for workouts in Wakefield. Fortunately, our workout group recently discovered that the baseball field is generally unused at the time we meet, and a lap of this particular field is close enough to a quarter mile for workout use. It’s pretty smooth, most of the way around, easy to run on but not as machined-flat as a track. The grass doesn’t give much back, the way a track would, so we have to work a bit harder, but it’s also softer to land on.

The other day, willing myself to stay on the shoulder of my much-faster training partner, I recalled quite vividly the half-mile loop around the lower playing fields at the College where we did most of our cross-country workouts. I don’t often look back on that loop fondly, but I realized that my view was colored by my current circumstances. Then, we did a lot of running on back roads with generous shoulders, or in the woods and hills around town. Now, I’m constrained to pavement and concrete (and, in some quarters of Cambridge, brick), or trails so rocky they may as well be concrete.

Wednesday morning as I ran along the Charles, and thought about what a great frame that river makes for a picture of the city, I also thought: too many people. Too much concrete. This isn’t really my place. I need softer ground.

Now Playing: I’m Running from Big Generator by Yes

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August 10, 2007

Logistics

I hinted, yesterday, that there has been some relocation going on. I tend not to spend a lot of time here on the comings and goings of my life, but since these things will provide the background for whatever stories I am telling here over the next few months, I might as well set the scene, so to speak. (My parents have requested a detailed itinerary, but that has become one of those tasks which requires too much energy to seriously attempt.)

  • General uncertainty back in May and June led us to decide not to renew the lease on this apartment. (In hindsight, the right choice, but it generated some anguish at the time.) The lease is up at the end of August, at which time I will be in Japan.

  • A has a job as an assistant coach back in Amherst, at The College. We found a tiny house for rent a short walk from downtown, and earlier this week moved 95% of the contents of this apartment into it. (Radio silence for the past week was largely due to packing and moving. At some point, I wistfully recalled driving to Pennsylvania with nothing but what I could fit in a Volkswagen, but of course I had no furniture whatsoever at the time.)

  • I’m rattling around a dreadfully empty apartment (echoes) until August 22, working on Common Kitchen and sleeping in an sleeping bag, on an air mattress. On the 22nd, I get on a plane for Japan.

  • Upon returning from Japan shortly after Labor Day, I will commence house-sitting (actually, a sort of informal sub-letting) in the Somerville condo of one of my Tufts classmates, who is doing an internship at Google in Pittsburgh this fall. (Everyone who hears this says the same thing: “Google has an office in Pittsburgh?” And I say, “Yeah, that’s what I said, too.”)

That should carry us well into the fall…

Now Playing: Dead Man from Tarantula by Ride

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August 2, 2007

How good is your German?

I’m trying to figure out how to register for this run. There seems to be online registration, but I can’t tell what to fill in where. Maybe I should just wait until I get there?

Now Playing: Protection from Speed Graphic (EP) by Ben Folds

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August 1, 2007

Profession spin

Every so often, I enjoy mentally putting the best possible spin on bits of work history. For example, since I’ve received cash for playing music in the past, I add the label “professional musician” to the list. There are limits; I can’t bring myself to stretch the single savings bond I once won in a road race into “professional athlete.” (And none of this stuff goes on a résumé, since it’s irrelevant anyway.)

It’s the little details of a job that tickle this kind of work satisfaction. For example, my work for the IAAF leads to occasional packages prominently return-addressed “MONACO” in my mail. And today, I’m rather looking forward to depositing a paycheck written in French.

(Yes, this sort of thing crosses my mind often.)

Now Playing: Walking With a Ghost by Tegan & Sara

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July 28, 2007

All ones

Somewhere, I have a blurry picture of the odometer in my first car showing all zeros. Its makers pessimistically equipped it with a five-digit odometer, so when the car hit 100,000 miles, it rolled over the odometer completely.

I missed 100,000 on this car, but today I stopped to get a shot of what may be a more momentous reading:

All ones

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July 19, 2007

Difference of opinion

The vet’s undoubtedly sensible advice was to not weigh Iz again until he’d been on his new diet for six weeks, “so we wouldn’t get discouraged,” but I need more frequent check-ins to stay focused on the task at hand. So today I weighed myself, then me plus Iz, and he was down 0.2 pounds*. This is a pretty good drop, not unlike a person my size losing two pounds. However, there’s some dissent about the appropriate reaction to this.

Me: This is great. Let’s stick to the program, and we’ll get you back to goal weight in no time!

Iz: This is great. Let’s celebrate. Ice cream? I’m buying. Can I borrow $10?**

* Assuming the scale is accurate to .05 pounds. It’s precise to 0.1, but how accurate?

** Of course, since he can’t talk, this is just my interpretation. It’s possible that a great deal of the personality of this very personality-ful cat comes right out of my own head.

Now Playing: Fists In My Pockets from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders

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July 17, 2007

Recruited

I just got a head-hunting email from a large Internet company looking for people with experience in systems administration and software engineering. This, in itself, is not too surprising. The fun part is that it was sent by a graduate of my College—ten years after me, natch—who found me through my Facebook profile.

Apparently he didn’t read the part about my current state of employment. (Though he did sort of hint that I should be handing this message on to other alumni I might know.)

Now Playing: Nietzche from Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols

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July 13, 2007

The Battle of the (Kitty) Bulge

Iz is a pretty vocal cat. This isn’t to say that he talks a lot, although he can, but that he has a wide range of vocalizations, ranging from the little “chirrup” noise he makes when he jumps up on something to the staccato “quacks” he makes when he’s sitting on a windowsill wishing he could chase birdies.

There’s one which we’ve decided should be called “the vet noise.” It’s lower than any other noise he makes, pretty much a growl, and he only makes it while at a veterinary office. He was giving it yesterday when the vet put him on the scale and announced that, despite having been on a limited diet for nearly four years, he’s still gaining weight.

The measuring cup we use to scoop his meals has now been replaced by the next size smaller, and I suspect this is going to mean twice-daily protests in advance of mealtimes. If we had another cat, it would be skinny… and Iz would be fatter.

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June 29, 2007

I should try this recipe

The stand-by of the desert traveler, however, is tea—not the emasculated and emaciated beverage of civilization, but a potent black brew made from one handful of tea and sugar in equal proportions, placed in a small pot having a capacity of perhaps a pint of water. This is boiled and the bitter-sweet liquid is served in tiny glasses holding about two ounces.

Two glasses of this drink will imbue the user with remarkable vitality. He becomes wakeful, watchful, and eager for the journey. The effect is exhilarating without being intoxicating. This desert tea is an acquired taste; but once the Bedouin beverage habit is formed, it is very difficult to go back to the pallid tea of civilization….

From “Crossing the Libyan Desert” by A. M. Hassanein Bey (1889-1946) in Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel & Adventure from National Geographic

Now Playing: St. Peter from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo

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June 28, 2007

Ping

The late-June hiatus seems to be becoming a habit of mine.

I’ve done some writing, but it hasn’t been published yet, so I won’t tell that story (yet). I’ve done a lot of other work, but that’s also not public yet, and I’m reluctant to talk too much about something I can’t show. (We call that “vaporware.”)

I’m not really a fan of this sort of writing-about-not-writing bit either, so I’ll stop soon. But I haven’t forgotten about here.

Now Playing: Rain by The Georgia Satellites

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June 16, 2007

Unintended consequences

I started this page as a sort of destination for the stories nobody I knew was interested in. (Nobody wants to hear about troubleshooting, for example. Nobody wants to hear my swimming stories except my brother, and he’s usually there when they happen. And so on.)

Now, though, enough people who know me read this that I’ve had the experience, more than once, of starting in on a story and having someone say, “Yeah, I read that on your blog.”

Now Playing: Got A Message by The Latebirds

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June 13, 2007

A mis-named event

I love that I’m involved in a sport where the international governing body can publish a headline like this:

Great hammer battle expected in Prague

I doubt I’m the only one who was faintly disappointed when I discovered that the event involves a spherical weight on the end of a meter-long cable, and not actual hammers.

Now Playing: The Way It Is from The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

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June 10, 2007

Can I tell you something?

That’s what the older of my nieces says at least three or four times a day. Before she grew to her current skills of enunciation, the words would pile out faster than she could shape them, and it would sound like “Cai telluh someing?” She says this even if what she wants to tell you is actually a question, or if she isn’t entirely sure what it is she’s about to tell you.

For a while, I went with reinforcement, saying, “You can always tell me anything.” She’s still doing it, so two or three times now, I’ve responded to the question by saying, “Have I ever said no to that question?” She rolls her eyes and says, “I know, I just keep saying it!”

Now Playing: Lillian, Egypt from The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

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May 31, 2007

If I vote for you, will you learn to use the English language?

I got a mailing this week, like (I assume) every other registered voter in Medford, inviting me to a “complimentary Old Fashioned Barbecue” at which Mayor Mike McGlynn will announce his candidacy for re-election.

Other than various municipal websites and the lifeguards at the local pool, I don’t really have any issues with Medford city government, but I do have to wonder about the all-caps, underlined, boldface title on the card, which reads

YOUR INVITED

What is my invited, anyway, and what does Mayor McGlynn want to know about it?

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May 25, 2007

Everybody's got advice

That’s the problem with telling people you’re working on a start-up.

Of course, a large portion of this advice is in areas we’re legitimately concerned about, e.g. patents (necessary or not? Affordable or not?) or money (should be obvious.) But sometimes I feel like I’m being given a pop quiz. Which database are we going to use? What technology stack? Web server? There are a lot of IT geeks who want to know if we’re using their favorite technology mix (databases are a favorite holy war, but source code management packages are another area where this happens) and are perfectly happy to tsk tsk and shake their heads when they hear we’re not. Sometimes I can shrug it off, like when I know we have circumstances which dictate doing things our way and not theirs. Sometimes I have to wonder.

My impulse is to resist going into too much detail in this sort of situation, and avoid the discussion, but in a lot of cases it’s good for us to get the advice. It’s just so tough to know which advice is good.

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May 21, 2007

Battle Road

A and I ran this morning on Battle Road in Lexington. For a runner, Battle Road is exactly what Boston doesn’t have enough of: five miles of rolling trail, groomed pretty flat (translation: few roots and rocks) but with rolling hills, turns, and lots of good scenery. The Winchester Fells could be like this if anyone cared to take good care of the trails, but instead we wind up running on a lot of concrete sidewalks.

The “road” itself follows pretty closely the route taken by the British soldiers returning from Concord, via Lexington, to Boston on April 19, 1775, and the surrounding land has been kept in (or restored to) pretty much the same configuration it had in 1775. In addition to the usual park-service signs illustrating various events and helpfully explaining how long it took a British grenadier to load his musket, there are numerous smaller markers, saying things like, “Several British soldiers are buried near here,” or, at the far end of the trail at Meriam’s Corner, “Boston Harbor 16 miles.”

It’s one thing to run those miles in light clothing on a pleasant May morning, carrying nothing but your clothes and moving briskly. But these little reminders make it easy to think about what a different thing it would be to march sixteen miles in heavy wool clothes, carrying a sixty-pound pack, keeping step and keeping the column dressed, and with other people shooting at you. (This point is brought home particularly when rounding a stone-walled corner and seeing the sign labeling it “Bloody Angle.”)

(Kenneth Roberts made the point quite neatly over fifty years ago in Oliver Wiswell, that one of the reasons the British lost was that their military leadership was, on average, pretty dim; why did the regulars have to carry their full packs to Concord? Similarly, why did they march on Bunker Hill with full packs?)

It’s also sobering to consider the families living in the various houses along the route, and imagine what it may have been like for them to see the British column marching through their yards—assuming they were still there when the column came by.

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May 10, 2007

Alpha testing, an announcement

It’s long past time I stopped talking about our company here, other than as it relates to me. We’re in the process of setting up a company weblog; I’ll post that address once it’s working (it’s generating interesting errors right now).

However, we do have a “coming soon” at our domain now, and we’re soliciting for guinea pigs alpha testers. If what’s there looks interesting to you, drop us a line, and we’ll start asking questions about how we can make a site that works for you. When we have working features worth showing you, you’ll get early access before the site “goes public,” and you’ll help us fix our bigger gaffes before we open up to the whole world.

So if you’re curious, or otherwise interested, stop by.

Now Playing: Soaked from Summer In Abaddon by Pinback

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April 18, 2007

Of course they'll stop for me

Since moving to Medford from the western end of the state, I’ve noticed a particular driving annoyance that I can’t make any sense of.

If you’re making a left turn from a side street (stop sign) onto a main road (no stop sign), do you:

  1. Wait patiently behind the stop sign for an opening.
  2. Stop at the sign, then creep up a bit so you can see better, and zip out at the first hint of an opening.
  3. Brake for the sign, then creep out into the main street until oncoming traffic from the left is unable to get by you. Once you’ve blocked them, either repeat the maneuver to get an opening from the right, or wait for an opening.

The driver’s manual, of course, calls for 1. Local traffic density combined with the tendency of parked cars to block the view to either side often means that 1 is impossible, and 2 must be employed. But a startlingly large number of drivers in Medford employ strategy 3, which seems to be only a half-step away from saying, “Traffic laws don’t apply to me.” (And, of course, many drivers around here have clearly taken that half step as well.)

What I can’t figure out is whether it’s just a Medford thing, or if it’s regional. Certainly if you did that where I learned to drive, you’d lose a fender or two, if you didn’t lose your license first.

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April 17, 2007

Qualtagh

I have long misunderstood the definition of qualtagh to be the first thing a person saw upon waking.

In that context, it is always nice to have a cat who wants breakfast.

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April 15, 2007

Disconnected marathon thoughts

  • Let it not be said, here in the Hub, that we miss our chances to market marathoning. With the Red Sox going Japanese for pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, of course two-time Marathon winner Toshihiko Seko will be throwing out the first pitch at Fenway. Of course, Seko has been rained out today. Maybe Deena Kastor should’ve been rained out; if she wins here, she’ll certainly be welcome back to try again.

  • A pointed out this morning that Joan Benoit Samuelson agrees with my comparison of the Monday forecast with NESCACs last fall.

  • The forecasts right now suggest that today will be pretty bad, but that the rain will be tapering off tomorrow morning. My cyclists are still bracing for the worst, with puddles and wet roads meaning slick brakes and cold legs, but it’s definitely not the full force of the storm. Ironically, had the BAA not moved up the start times two hours this year, they might have escaped the storm entirely, if these forecasts are correct. (Undoubtedly we will all be proved wrong tomorrow.) Meanwhile, it snowed on me during my run this morning.

  • I really hope the weather is good enough to allow the TV helicopters to take off. The cameras on the ground rely on the helicopters to relay the video in to the trailers in town, and if the helicopters aren’t there, our only video is from stationary cameras like those at the start in Hopkinton.

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April 4, 2007

Opinions: passport?

My current passport expires in April of 2008. This is a long way away, but the University is hosting a “passport day” later this month for easy submission of renewal applications so I’m considering whether to re-up now. It’s not a simple decision:

  • RFID passports. Security experts have been deriding the security of these things for years, but Any Day Now all new passports issued will have an RFID tag. Do I try to duck in under the wire (as late as March, non-RFID passports were still being issued) or wait until I need one and hope they refine the technology? Penalty for a bad decision is being stuck with insecure, first-generation technology for ten years, though I could always disable it.

  • Summer travel. They say 8-10 weeks to get back the new passport, due to the recent surge in applications. (Lots of people who used to go back and forth to Canada and various Caribbean islands without passports are now required to have valid ones.) With a late-April application, I should have it back by mid-July, but it feels perilously close to my mid-August departure.

  • Less significantly, the stamps. Shouldn’t I collect a few last stamps in that old one? It doesn’t have as many exotic ones as my first passport (the one with the Russian stamps, and the full-page 1991 Polish visa stamp, both of which caused various immigration officials to pause while flipping through the book,) but a lot more. Or should I inaugurate a new one with a nice Japan sticker and an EU stamp?

I know, rough decision. I should be spending my mental energy on buying our development server. (Probably a refurbished Mac Mini. Funny how well those things fit the home server niche.)

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April 3, 2007

You can fix things by whining about them online, Part 3

Sunday evening I posted a cranky evaluation of tax software and my misadventures with it this season. This afternoon, I got a nicely-worded email from an H&R Block project manager thanking me for the detailed feedback, “because that’s the best way to improve the product year over year.”

I have to imagine, because taxes are inherently frustrating and any related hitch doubly so, that they get a lot of irate feedback. Even if this is a form letter—I say that because of its length, not its tone—responding politely like that is classy. It’s good to see a big company adapting to change rather than fighting it.

(See part 1 and part 2.)

Now Playing: No Fear from Everything Changed by Abra Moore

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April 1, 2007

Joke's on me: Taxes by computer

I’ve never filled out a paper federal return. Tax software was getting good right about the time I started paying my own taxes. Pennsylvania’s paper return was frighteningly easy (five minutes’ work, in general) but once I moved back to Massachusetts one year of their paper forms was enough; now I buy state add-ons for tax software. There are enough quirks in my return that I can’t use the web-based services, some of which are actually free. (And yet I also know that my return is simple compared to those of other people I know; there is still a market for actual live accountants doing tax forms.)

There are two big players in tax software: Intuit’s TurboTax (formerly MacInTax), and TaxCut, which is now published by H&R Block. I’ve tended to buy whichever one costs least and hasn’t ticked me off recently. This year I went with TaxCut; now they’ve ticked me off enough that next year I clearly need to return to TurboTax.

TaxCut fell down on tuition. Since I’m “fully funded,” my tuition is not eligible to be counted as a deduction. TaxCut, however, just asked what tuition I’d paid. I filled in the number from the 1098-T the University sent me, and the software entered a nice $600 deduction from my tax. Hey, wait: what about the matching scholarships and grants? I had to do some research, then go back and zero out that number. (Ouch.)

TaxCut also made it difficult to go straight to the forms and fill in data. I have a few tricky entries where I simply get a letter that says, “Enter $nnn.mm on Schedule Z, line 5746.” I can’t do that easily in TaxCut; it’s simple in TurboTax.

The competition is pretty fierce in this field, because I got “free” software CDs from both companies. (“Here’s our software, if you want to use it, come pay us online.”) The TaxCut CD included a link to buy TaxCut Premium (which includes one state add-on, and is therefore what I need,) for $29.95, but when I then arrived at the linked website, the price was $34.95. Nothing to make you extremely suspicious about a company like a sneaky price raise. I should’ve taken that warning and returned to Intuit (a pretty annoying company in their own right,) particularly given the installation customer service nightmare TaxCut put me through a few years ago, but I didn’t. Let the rest of you be warned: don’t make the mistakes I did. Intuit is the lesser of two evils. Can’t someone make tax software that doesn’t suck?

It should go without saying that I print and mail paper forms. E-filing saves the government money—so why are they asking me to pay extra for it?

There’s nothing to make you opposed to nearly every policy of the federal government like finishing your tax forms. An unintended consequence of my freelance writing is that I wind up sending a large check to the feds every year; I’ve never had a refund. I like it that way, to some degree; assuming the sum I pay is fair, I’d rather hold on to more of it longer than give the feds too much and have to ask for it back. I know some people arrange their deductions such that they get a refund every year; I’d rather earn a few bucks in interest on that cash first.

Now Playing: Empty Glass from Night Opens by Rich Price

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March 28, 2007

More than a penny

On my way over to the presentation, I passed by Jumbo. Remembering the success of my nickel on my first trip by him, I left a penny. I think maybe that wasn’t enough.

We didn’t win the business plan contest. This doesn’t come as a big surprise; the two competitors I identified earlier this month as strong entries came out on top. These guys came out on top—not surprising considering what they’ve already done—and these guys were second.

Despite the contest being billed as a winner-take-all, though, they ended up splitting the funds among us, such that we and two others actually came away with $1k, while the top two had some complicated division of the remaining prize (which, while largely cash, also included a fair amount of in-kind services like legal assistance, consulting, and lease credit for office space.) The upside is that, since we didn’t pick up the in-kind services, we’re not now tied to those companies for services or offices; there has been some discussion of locating somewhere other than the Boston metro area. The downside, obviously, is that we’re not $50k ahead on our initial funding.

We got some helpful feedback from two of the judges, who pointed out to us that while we’ve been focusing on the website, and the related software development has been growing in the background, it’s time we started pitching ourselves as a software company, and building the website as a proof of concept.

So there may be a company name change in the near future (one reason I haven’t been spreading around our working title,) and some actual software engineering is going to have to start happening.

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March 22, 2007

Your most effective tools may surprise you

The cat attempts several strategies to get me to wake up and feed him in the morning.

His favored approach involves sitting next to my head, putting one of his little white paws on my mouth, and slowly extending its claws into my lips. This has been less effective lately, as I have started “biting” his paws with my lips when I feel them close to my mouth.

If he was more persistent, he could almost certainly win with a different strategy, which he often starts but seldom sticks to. He gets a good purr going, then sticks his nose in my ear. The combination of the up-close full-volume purr flood and the tickling of his whiskers (plus the sniffing noise and the rushing air connected to hauling a pretty good volume of air in and out through his tiny nose) almost always produces sleepy chuckles from me; if he’d stick to it, he’d have me wide awake and laughing at him.

I suppose he would rather dominate me with his weapons than bring the indignity of participating in a joke. Cats are not, generally, willing clowns. But when they fall into the role inadvertently, they do it so well!

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March 18, 2007

Reminder to owners of tall cars

Clear the snow off the roof before you drive.

Headed west on Route 2 near Lunenberg this afternoon, we watched a big sheet of frozen snow lift off the roof of an SUV and fall on the car behind it. As we passed that car, we saw that the windshield was pretty much completely starred (though fortunately for the occupants, not shattered.) He was back up behind the SUV—writing down the license plate number, no doubt.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, when the state police get the accident report on that one, the SUV driver gets a citation along with a sternly worded letter from his insurance company.

Rule of thumb: if you can’t sweep the snow off the roof, maybe you shouldn’t buy it. (And if you just can’t be bothered… well, I hope the ticket is an expensive one.)

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March 15, 2007

World-class indecision

I’m glad I didn’t write too much about Osaka given that things got a lot more complicated yesterday. It turns out the work is managed by the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), and the IAAF was contacting me on their behalf, hence the Japanese tax. But then the LOC decided they didn’t have a vacancy after all.

My editor said a number of nice things about my work in Fukuoka, and made another offer: different work, directly for the IAAF, for which they would either pay as usual or pay my flights/hotels for the meet. (For the LOC, that would have been “and” instead of “or,” but it would also have been more work.) Beyond that, though, could I come to Stuttgart for the World Athletics Final later in September?

As I said the other day, I’d already been toying with the idea of going and trying to round up enough work to break even. This new offer gets me very close to break-even, closer than I had been before, and offers a greater amount of slack time to pick up more work; it only looks bad next to the offer that turned out not to exist. And I want to go; unlike a lot of domestic meets (Indianapolis!), I can get excited about the idea of a week-plus in Osaka even if the meet isn’t the best ever. (This would also have been true of Helsinki in ‘05.) So I’m not very far from taking this; it’s a good offer outside the context in which it arrived. But I’m concerned about taking the time away, and being close to break-even rather than well-over puts me in a gray area.

The Stuttgart offer, on the other hand, seems like a no-brainer. It’s only a (four- or five-day) weekend, it’s a place I’ve never visited and an event I’ve never seen. (Someday I’d like to do some kind of ten-day European trip that hits two or three of the Grand Prix one-day meets, but maybe that will be at a time in my life when I do that as a vacation, not a working trip.) I think that one’s a go.

I feel like I am making too many firm commitments without knowing what else I’ll be tied up in when those commitments come due. Or even where I’ll be living.

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March 12, 2007

Not an event preview

An update on the business plan competition: about a week and a half ago, we attended a session where all the finalists ran through a summary of their business for a panel of experts who weren’t the judges, but were, I think, assembled from a similar pool of experience. We discovered that there are five finalists; one didn’t send anyone to the panel, and we think there are two others (beyond ourselves, of course) who have a solid chance to win.

Fortunately for us, there is an associated “Social Entrepreneurship” competition. This is fortunate because it draws the “we’re going to save the world” plans; we don’t have to face off with a group from the medical school which plans to cure cancer, for example. (There is no such group this year, but that’s the idea.)

We have to submit a one-paragraph summary (for the program) on Wednesday, a revised business plan on Friday of next week (the end of Spring Break,) and a ten-minute presentation the following Monday. Then on Wednesday the 28th, we (all) deliver our presentations, answer questions (one question per judge per team,) and the results are announced. We’ve started our rewrite already, which is tedious because we’ve altered the plan so much since January. It also reminds us how useful it has been to start planning in January; even if we don’t win, the contacts we’ve made through the contest and the work we’ve done will mean it has been worthwhile.

As I’ve noted before, if someone gets mentioned here often enough, I assign them a pseudonym to allow me to call them by name without coming up on web searches for their real names. (Hence, for example, Professors α, β, and γ, and my advisor Professor Σ.) So I don’t have to keep referring to “my business partner,” he will now be “the Shipwright,” which could be a pun on his real name if you stretched it far enough. He and I tend to be a little bipolar about our chances; on any given day, one of us is bracing for a long struggle to profitability, and the other is certain we’re going to take the world by storm, but it’s not easily predictable which of us is which.

Now Playing: amtrak trainwreck from sleeping and breathing by cathode

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March 9, 2007

I may not be a famous researcher...

…but I now have a share in a named theorem. (From this observation.) Now, instead of trying to explain why you develop a powerful interest in cleaning your room instead of studying for exams, you can just cite us. (It also explains why I not only vacuumed the apartment this morning, but mopped the kitchen.)

Now Playing: Two Against Nature from Two Against Nature by Steely Dan

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March 8, 2007

How do you start learning about game design?

One of the undergrads I work with is an interesting case. He’s quiet, hard to draw out. He comes from one of the state’s desperately poor mill cities, and though he’d never say it, I think he’s still a little uncomfortable at the University, even after a few years. I bet if I described “impostor syndrome” to him, he’d be nodding before I was halfway done.

I think what he really wants to do is write games. I think that’s what drew him to CS, and I think that’s what keeps him at it—or, failing that, the unspoken promise of a well-paying job on graduation.

I’m not a gamer; I can play strategy games, but a few too many times I found that I’d blown a whole afternoon when there was something more important that I really should have been doing, so I just steer clear. As a result, I know next to nothing about the machinery of the games world. I know that graphics and rendering engines have a lot to do with it; I know there’s a lot of custom language development and language parsing that happens in games companies. That’s fine, I can steer him that direction.

But I also know there’s a whole branch of—sociology? anthropology? psychology?—focused on the study of games, what makes good ones, and why people play them. They call it ludology and it really is a serious academic specialty. I don’t think it’s worth steering this kid into that study, but I do think it would benefit him tremendously if we could find some kind of survey of the field so he’s aware that it’s out there; if he can develop an ability to apply their theories, that could help him land a job in games. Maybe.

So call this a sort of LazyWeb query. Does anyone know of a sort of survey of ludology?

Now Playing: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? from Combat Rock by The Clash

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Well said, sir

I don’t think this requires further comment:

Frazz comic from March 8, 2007

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February 28, 2007

Now I can reclaim that stack space

Two years after I first started wondering, it has finally dawned on me that the reason race directors don’t print their results with a larger typeface and/or bigger line spacing is that they’re all using Meet Manager and that doesn’t offer those options—it just spits out the page. So we can blame Hy-Tek for all the tiny print.

Now, whatever tiny part of my brain has been worrying that problem for the last two years can be devoted to something else…

Now Playing: English Beefcake from Pleased to Meet You by James

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February 23, 2007

Win some, lose some

Another grad student, on the eligible bachelor she recently met: “But he’s 31! That’s so old!

Guy in the pizza shop, as I head out the door: “Have a good weekend, kiddo.”

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February 19, 2007

The sequel

Thursday morning, we had no hot water in the bathroom. Plenty of cold, but move the faucet to the hot side, and it trickled, then stopped. Hot water, however, is served as usual in the kitchen. Conclusion, based on these facts: the hot water pipe (but not the cold) is frozen somewhere between the fork in the bedroom closet which splits the kitchen/laundry supply from the bathroom supply.

This is a bit of a surprise, because while cold (and quite icy—the landlord spread a full bag of rock salt on the sidewalk on Thursday), it has been colder around here this winter.

When I got home from the University on Thursday afternoon, the landlord was waiting, and shortly afterward, two plumbers showed up with a contraption that looked like a small jet engine. Plugged in, it generated some smoke and significant noise, scared the daylights out of Iz (which was good, because the apartment door was standing open), and directed a stream of heat at various walls they suspected of harboring frozen pipes. Eventually, they stripped the fixture off the shower pipes, so we could feel how cold that pipe was as opposed to how hot the pipe in our closet was, but their heater contraption was only heating the bathroom tiles (and the air—I saw 78 on the thermostat, which is usually set somewhat lower.) Eventually they gave up and went home.

The landlord, who used to live in this unit, thinks the culprit is the wind; it can get plenty cold, but if the wind is coming from a certain direction that chills the pipes more easily. He says it happened at least once when he was here as well.

Friday morning, they all returned, this time with a much smaller box with what looked like jumper cables attached. They hooked one contact on just above the split in the closet, the second behind the shower faucet, plugged in to a wall socket, and turned it on. Five minutes later, running water in the bathroom; the pipes had been frozen but hadn’t burst, and we were good to go. Plumbers departed, to be replaced a few minutes later by contractors who opened up the wall on the other side of the shower and put insulation on the pipes in hopes of preventing another freeze.

No problems over the weekend; we’re OK on water Sunday night. We get email from the landlord: “It’s going to be unusually cold and windy on Monday/night. Just to be on the safe side, could you let the hot water drip slightly.” OK, no problem, Monday night.

Monday morning, 8°F and windy: Just a trickle from the hot water taps. We’re too late. Still, this is a trickle, not a stop. I have the taps open hoping we can draw heated water up into the pipes and thaw the block without calling the professionals.

Evening update: We called the professionals. The water is thawed and now trickling.

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February 13, 2007

Manifesting the audience

Tying a few things together: I’m re-reading this New York Magazine article about “the younger generation” (Bog, I’m old) and the gap between how they view online “privacy” (they don’t even have the concept) and how people my age do. On one hand, I’m thinking about how this matches with my mental decisions not to write here about classes of things that happen at the University—about “my” students, “my” undergraduates, etc.—because, hey, maybe they don’t even care.

The bottom of the cup But I’m also thinking about this software I grabbed last week, and ran for most of a day. It connects to an available digital camera (e.g. the one built in to the lid of this laptop) and grabs a photo every thirty seconds or so, saving them as a giant time-lapse movie. I wound up with a record of what the laptop sees in a day, about thirty seconds of me grimacing at the screen, or just slack-faced in contemplation. It has the same quirky feel to it as a photo of yourself, because unlike PhotoBooth it doesn’t reverse the image (showing you the same image you’d expect from a mirror) but shows the straight image.

There are some odd frames—a few shots of me eating breakfast, one with the cat walking in front of the screen, a long morning segment displaying how badly I needed a haircut (and how the pool chemicals combine with my habit of running my fingers through my hair to make it stand up straight in a decidedly terrifying manner.)

This screen (actually, one quite like it) has been my audience for the best part of the last two years. It was quite revealing to see what it sees.

Now Playing: Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) from Pleased to Meet You by James

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January 26, 2007

Small things decaying

I’ve been driving the same car for nearly ten years now. It’s been pretty good to me, in general, and since I left Pennsylvania the rate at which it accrued mileage has dipped—particularly since we moved here, where on an average week it only leaves the driveway once.

But still, an eleven-year-old car is getting up there. (Before I get much farther, I should note: I have every intention of keeping it going as long as it’s good for more than spare parts. No point in using the metal, plastic, etc. to generate a new car on my account until I’ve used this one up.) Like the two which came before it, it’s starting to show little rattles as pieces work loose; the finish has all the nicks and scuffs that come with years on the road (even the (many) parts which have been replaced.) The power socket has actually separated from its hole in the dashboard and dangles loose in front of the gear shift.

This morning, I tried to pop the hood to put in more windshield washing fluid. The hood wouldn’t pop. I pulled again… and the latch snapped off in my hand.

This one I may have to fix. (Or get fixed.)

Now Playing: You Are The World from Mental Jewelry by Live

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January 13, 2007

A cat's life

What would your life be like if people dropped what they were doing to adore you periodically through the day—particularly if it wasn’t because you were campaigning for attention, but just doing something reflexive like sleeping?

Posted by pjm at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

How to get a Medford parking sticker

If I’m going to be the primary source for the local Boloco hours, I might as well cover a few other public services.

To get a city of Medford parking sticker, you need a check for $10 made out to the City of Medford, and your car’s registration (current, obviously.) If your registration doesn’t show a Medford address (for example, if your car is leased) you’ll need to show your drivers license as well (presumably to verify that you live in Medford.)

For the third year in a row I’ve found this information impossible to find on either the City’s website or the police department’s website, (my carping about this last year is already on the first page for some searches) so there it is.

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January 7, 2007

Not long now

I took this photo in May ‘05 from the window of my room in my parents’ house in Maine. The view this weekend wasn’t too different, minus the buds on the trees.

Imagine a sunset over that lake, and it begins to explain why I’ve never been too impressed with the visual appeal of other places I’ve lived.

Winnegance

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January 1, 2007

Looking back

I made very few tweaks to the wish list site this fall, but somewhere along the line my quick hack to add an affiliate code to any Amazon links actually started working. (I’m mystified as to how it works now but didn’t before, but I won’t question it.) Between mid-November and the end of December, affiliate fees from the Wish List rung up around $35, which is pretty close to paying my hosting fees for the past three Decembers. That’s pretty cool.

I’d particularly like to thank someone who put a massively expensive medical textbook on their Christmas list. (Unless there are other med students using this that I don’t know about…)

Now Playing: You Had Time from Out Of Range by Ani DiFranco

Posted by pjm at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)

Plans and decisions

I’ve been wishy-washy here for a year about what happens when I finish my MS at the end of the spring semester.

For the last month, it’s been increasingly clear that I’m not ready to move on to the Ph.D. For one thing, I haven’t lit on one area that sets me on fire, one thing I’m willing to devote three or four years of research to. Without that, I think going on is probably a bad idea for everyone. For another, the open doors have been closing; Professor β has decided I’m not such a great fit for her group (basically, my math skills are deficient, and I’d have to spend some time catching up,) and Professor Γ didn’t get the grant she wanted to fund me with. I could still try to work with Professor Σ, and I will be doing my MS work with him, but I’m starting way behind.

So it looks like I will take my paper in May and run. (Actually, I will be automatically rolled into the Ph.D. program, whereupon I will immediately go “on leave” for an indefinite period.) I’ve been talking with another student in the same situation, and he and I have been cooking ideas for a little website which we may try to turn into a going concern once we’re finished in May. I’ll post more as it becomes interesting. (Other than it being a website, it’s not an area I’ve worked in before, so let’s not get too excited yet. It’s the technology that interests me.) That will probably mean a lot of work, some of which is actually starting tomorrow.

But yes, of course this new project will have a weblog, too. Isn’t that the first thing after the business plan, nowadays?

Now Playing: Wings from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 10:19 AM | Comments (3)

Rabbit rabbit

Rabbit Rabbit

We made gingerbread bunny cookies.

Rabbit Rabbit

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December 31, 2006

Cat detector

How dark are a cat’s stripes?

We have a night-light near our apartment door which is itself light-sensitive, which is to say, it has a little eye on the front which measures ambient light nearby. If it’s daytime, or the lights are on in that room, it stays off. If it’s dark nearby (that is, neither of those conditions are true,) it lights up.

Like most outlets, the light is at approximately cat height. When Iz walks by, the light flickers on.

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December 26, 2006

What a geek needs

Falling asleep Sunday evening, I was thinking to myself, what I want for Christmas is something that doesn’t really exist. I want a stack.

Not pancakes, nor paper, nor exhaust (though paper comes close.) I want a data structure for my brain that works like pushd and popd (two command line utilities I recently learned about and already love.) pushd . stores the current working directory in a “stack,” which in the world of computers is relatively narrowly defined, generally referring to a last-in-first-out (LIFO) data structure. (As opposed to first-in-first-out (FIFO,) which is called a “queue,” because it functions like a line at a store.) You “push” values on to the top of a stack, then “pop” the top value off. Once something has been pushed to the stack, you can move on to do something else, somewhere else. When you’re ready to go back where you were last working, you just say popd and you’re there. Because the stack is limited only by available memory, you can nest (pushing repeated values on to the stack, then popping them back off in reverse order.

So what I want is to be able to do pushd and popd on the entire working context of my brain. (From an Object Oriented standpoint, I want a stack of BrainContents objects.) So if I am distracted or diverted by something else (which inevitably happens) I could serialize my mind context, push it on a stack, go through the distraction, then pop the context off once the distraction is over and get back to work.

Anyone who can invent this will probably make a fortune.

Posted by pjm at 8:40 PM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2006

Bang

(I have other things to post about, but they’re long and complex. This is short and may amuse some people who know the character in question.)

At the swim meet this weekend I was talking, briefly, with one of my former track coaches (also a swim coach) and a College classmate who swam for him. I mentioned another swimmer who had been my first-year roommate. “How did that work for you?” the coach asked. Well, I recalled, I looked at his desk once and saw all the books perfectly squared with the desktop, and realized he held himself to a standard I just couldn’t reach. I also remembered the time I was leading a tour group of prospective students around campus, and shortly after I had explained how we were one of the few undergraduate colleges with a Neuroscience major, and that at fifteen courses or so it was probably the toughest course on campus, I spotted him coming by and waved. “I just declared my major!” he shouted. “What?” I asked, and he replied, gleefully, “Neuro!” Whereupon the entire tour group laughed.

“Well, he had to let loose in other ways,” reflected the coach.

One year, I was sitting in my office on the day before the Williams meet, shuffling events and pulling my hair out trying to figure out our best scoring strategy. [My roommate] came in to this little office by the side door, and before greeting me, picked up the starter’s pistol from my desk, and pulled the trigger.

Without checking to see if it was loaded.

I jumped right across my desk and just about wrung his neck. When my hearing came back, he was yelling, “I quit!”

I think he quit the team at least three times that day.

Posted by pjm at 9:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2006

What growing up really means

As far as I can tell from this editorial in today’s University newspaper, “growing up” means, “There’s no such thing as ‘a little harmless fun’ anymore.”

(When did college students start having to be reminded to “play nice”?)

Now Playing: Raining in Baltimore from August & Everything After by Counting Crows

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December 7, 2006

Sunset day

Sunset Day is early this year. Today marks the earliest sunset of the year, so even though the days keep getting shorter for another two weeks, there will be more light every evening until summertime. (From that we can deduce that sunrises are getting later at a faster clip than sunsets.) Sunrise Day was of great importance to me during the year before I was injured, when I was getting up to run at 6 AM every morning and frequently finished my run before the sun was up. I’m not an early morning runner nowadays, and seeing late-afternoon light coming through classroom windows during a class that ends at 2:45 has been a bit bleak lately.

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December 3, 2006

Can you rent a sewing machine?

That’s what I need: a rental sewing machine.

I’ve discovered that sometimes I want to sew something. Sweatshirts, for example, tend to have cuffs smaller than I like them; I want to cut the cuffs off and then hem the ends of the sleeves. I’m OK with a needle and thread; I can do a pretty regular running stitch and a few others, and I can replace a button (assuming I put it on the right side of the shirt; I once accidently re-attached a button on the inside of a shirt.) I’m better with a sewing machine, but my need is so seldom it’s far from worth it to me to own one; I’d use it maybe once a year, maybe less. (Not unlike an iron, but more expensive.)

So can I rent one, like I could with power tools? In the first apartment Iz lived in, the “baseboards” were strips of carpet stapled to the walls, and he liked to lie on his side and pull himself along the wall using the carpet strips. Naturally, they pulled away from the walls, so before we moved out, I went to the local rental place and spent ten bucks to rent a power stapler and buy a stick of staples. I tacked that carpet back on the wall more securely than it had been fixed when we moved in, I think. (And I think the first thing the landlord did when we moved out was rip out everything to renovate the unit and sell it as a condo.)

Is it possible to rent a sewing machine that way?

Will they thread the bobbin for me?

Now Playing: Chaos from Priest = Aura by The Church

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December 2, 2006

Reading for others

“Nazar” asked in the comments to “Someone else’s reading” how to get involved, since I didn’t post a link to the sign-up and reading list page. I explained there that there are a few reasons why I don’t feel comfortable posting that link, one being the so-far limited community which is easily handling the reading list, and another being potential copyright issues.

But if you’re interested in contributing the audiobook community in a way that reaches a significantly wider audience than this little project, I recently heard about LibriVox.

I would say, “started using and love,” but I’m not in a phase of my life where I’m a big audiobook consumer right now. (There was a time when I was driving a lot, to home and on weekends, radio along the way stank and I didn’t have an iPod. At that time, checking out the unabridged audiobook of I, Claudius (13 CDs! I can’t remember how many cassettes it was, but it was a lot,) from the Emmaus Public Library was a triumph.)

LibriVox is a community which collects, copy-listens and distributes public-domain (or otherwise legally distributable) audiobooks for free. There’s a lot of good (albeit mostly old) literature in the public domain, so there’s a lot that can be read for them. Audiobooks like this are available to everyone, of course, but most appreciated by people with vision problems. If you’re interested in contributing your time to a project by reading, consider them.

Now Playing: Amber, Ember, Glow by Saxon Shore

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December 1, 2006

Someone else's reading

Through an online connection, I heard about an alumna of my (undergraduate) college who is a grad student at Harvard. She’s recently been dealing with a medical condition which makes it difficult to read. This can be a problem for a grad student. For a while, other grad students in her program were reading to her, and she was also having her Mac read text to her.

This is where things get interesting.

Within a day of her mentioning this, two different people suggested that it should be pretty simple to organize distributed recording of the readings. One took charge and set up an infrastructure which automated the process. Readings get posted to a list, where interested readers can browse the list and sign up to read chapters or papers. Once they’ve made a recording and saved an MP3 (instructions provided, of course,) they can upload to the site, where everything is organized as a podcast. A local friend subscribed the student’s iTunes to the podcast, and voila, her readings are automatically downloaded and available for “reading” shortly after posting.

Now, that’s cool by itself, in a sort of techie way, but it’s still not the best part of the story.

It’s positively competitive to sign up for readings. There are enough people who think this is a great idea and are willing to spend an hour or so reading that when a new list of articles goes up, it’s “claimed” within a few hours. If you don’t jump, you don’t get to read.

I’ve done one, so far. I was alarmed, listening back, to discover that I was using the same tone of voice I use when reading to my nieces. (Then I stopped, because I don’t like listening to my own recorded voice.)

Now Playing: The Innocent from Fly Me Courageous by Drivin ‘N’ Cryin

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November 30, 2006

Burrito

We now have a Boloco in Medford, about ten minutes walk from my office, and today—its first day open—was “free burrito day.” There was a line out the door when I got there, which should be no surprise to anyone considering that they’re about as close as they can get to the main campus without being on it. The line moved pretty quickly, all things considered (I guess they didn’t need to make change for anyone, after all,) and I was happy to wait for several reasons, one being, hey, free burrito! Also, it beat my other dinner plan, which involved sitting down around 9:30 PM to eat. And finally, it’s now almost certainly the best counter-food option in easy walking distance of the department. Still, it’s no Bueno.

Now Playing: Shameless from Dilate by Ani DiFranco

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November 23, 2006

Stuffed

With more people than usual to feed him, Iz managed to get all his breakfast (usually measured out in small segments roughly between 6 AM and noon) within an hour of 5 AM today. He suckered two different people into thinking he’d been starving since the previous evening. I’m thinking we need a little sign for the food bag that reads something like this:

Izzy is whining for [Breakfast/Dinner]

…with an arrow. Then, when he’s had breakfast, the server can move the arrow to “Dinner,” and any subsequent marks will know he’s running a con game by begging for dinner at 8 AM.

(I sound strict, but the little tiger is currently sleeping off a little tryptophan dose of his own.)

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Holiday code

Thanksgiving Day means updating the wish list software. (I find this easier than updating my wish list.) I got rid of status indicators and added the ability to add multiple comments, essentially making each “wish” into a tiny blog post. I think this will improve flexibility. Now I may need to make individual feeds for each wish! I still don’t have the “give list” created, probably because I haven’t worked out a simple way to make it happen.

But ugh, that code. I should scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.

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November 12, 2006

An idea conceived by a newcomer

I should say, right up front, that up until a few weeks ago I couldn’t have pointed out Downtown Crossing on a map (unless it was labeled.) Had I ever surfaced at the relevant T stop (my red line to orange line transition) I would not have recognized where I came up.

But honestly, who in their right mind thinks they can rename Downtown Crossing? Certainly they could try, but this is coastal New England. We still refer to the ring highway around the city by its pre-Interstate route number. We refer to houses by the names of, not the previous occupants, but long-dead occupants of twenty or more years ago. (“The old Babkirk house,” etc.) Hell, there are still people around here who will give directions including Scollay Square, which I don’t think has existed by that name in my lifetime. (And if you think the “Square” naming system around here isn’t a plot to make directions more obscure and difficult for out-of-towners, you’re underestimating the character of people around here.)

They can name it whatever they want. The “Downtown Crossing” name will be around for decades. This has to be a New York idea; no New Englander would bother trying.

Now Playing: Good Man Gone from Too Close to Heaven by The Waterboys

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November 9, 2006

Segmentation fault

Core dumped.

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October 30, 2006

How to slant an article

Two years ago, I dressed down a certain Washington Times sportswriter here for a column I thought was ill-considered and even worse researched. Turns out things aren’t getting any better at the Times.

Yesterday, Steve Nearman had a story in the Times about James Madison University’s decision to cut three women’s sports (archery, gymnastics and fencing) and seven men’s sports: archery, cross country, gymnastics, indoor track, outdoor track, swimming and wrestling.

He talked to nobody from JMU (which is 61 percent female and therefore having a hard time meeting the Title IX proportionality standard.) And he never mentions the word “football.” He makes it sound like Title IX is all about the persecution of men’s sports. Clearly Nearman did not read last month’s New York Times story and its link to an Inside Higher Ed story, which includes these lines:

Yet to some observers outside James Madison … the situation can be seen as part of a recent trend of scapegoating the federal law barring sex discrimination for athletic cuts made as much for financial and other reasons as for equity concerns.

“This was, for the most part, a business decision,” said Lamar Daniel, a Title IX compliance consultant and former U.S. Education Department official whom James Madison first hired in 1999. Daniel attributed the university’s decision to cut the teams to a desire to scale back its sports program—at 28 sports, one of the biggest in Division I—to a more manageable size and scope in the hope of making the teams it is keeping more competitive without spending more.

“This is about funding; this is about money,” he said. “It’s not about Title IX; Title IX is only a consideration in this matter in that you have to consider the impact of Title IX in any athletic decision.”

(Note: In the NYT article, the same consultant backpedaled, saying he’d overstated things, but the point remains that JMU made a financial decision, and Title IX merely shaped the way they made that decision.)

It’s true that men’s running and swimming are almost always the first to go (assuming the university in question no longer has a wrestling team; collegiate wrestling has been pretty much dead for decades and it’s a wonder gymnastics is still around.) But it’s not Title IX that’s killing them; it’s the lack of a women’s sport to balance the number of men carried on the roster of your average collegiate football team. Field hockey helps; so does crew if it’s varsity (rowing is an NCAA sport for women, but not for men.) But they don’t balance football. So university officials axe the four sports (XC, indoor, outdoor, swimming) which are most likely to contribute to the continuing health of their participants in the decades after graduation, and keep the one least likely.

Has anyone checked up on Swarthmore’s Title IX compliance? They cut their football team in the last decade. How about UVM (“Undefeated since 1974”)? How about Connecticut College, which never had one? What happens at James Madison in ten years, when male athletes aren’t going to JMU (why would they?) and the university’s gender ratio swings even more? What happens when they go after the men’s soccer team? The baseball team? The men’s basketball team?

Title IX is not killing men’s sports. Title IX is merely the anvil against which the country’s athletic departments are swinging the hammer of football. Everyone else gets pinched. Slanting articles against the law is easy to do: all you need is to be able to write an entire article about collegiate sports without bringing up football.

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October 22, 2006

Halloween Parade

I had forgotten, until I got there, that Emmaus has a Halloween Parade.

I have not heard of such things (Halloween Parades, that is,) outside of eastern Pennsylvania, though they must exist elsewhere. Emmaus (apparently) has the biggest one in the Lehigh Valley, and I almost always missed it, either because I didn’t know there was such a thing, or because I was in Chicago for the marathon. For the later three years I was there, I shared a house less than a block from the route; we walked down to the end of our alley and watched it cross Ninth Street on its way to the “return leg” of the trip on Chestnut Street. It was a bit odd, if only several factors (two left turns in quick succession, a downhill, and a relatively sparse spectator density) meant that most of the bands were just counting time and floats were hanging on rather than showing off.

This year, my second time at the parade, I walked a few blocks with one of my old roommates, his wife, and their two-month-old daughter, to our (former) coach’s house, where we watched with co-workers and training partners. (Ex on my part, not on his, obviously.) We were maybe four or five blocks from the start of the parade route, so everyone was still pumped up and excited to be out marching after an hour plus milling around in the staging area. The street was lined, shoulder to shoulder, chair to chair, both sides. (When we took the dog for a morning walk around 11, people already had chairs and blankets out to stake out prime spots, eight hours pre-parade.)

The distinctive part of the Emmaus parade is timing. Most parades are daytime affairs; Emmaus’s parade is at night, lining up at seven and moving at 7:30. It might have taken them fifteen minutes to get to our spot; it easily took a full hour for the entire parade to pass. I lost count of the marching bands at five, including at least three high schools and two junior highs, plus two or more “hobo bands” and the Kutztown University band. I suppose it’s easier to get a band when school is in session (particularly during football season) than it is in early July. KU got my votes for “Most Fun” and “Most Likely to Sustain Instrument Damage,” since they weren’t marching—they were weaving, milling around and circling in an apparently-but-maybe-not-really-random manner, like an ambulatory party providing its own music.

Halloween Parade

Brandywine Valley HS, as far as I could tell, was a good way from home, but obviously a regional-class band (if not better.) They take their marching bands more seriously in Pennsylvania than we ever did in Maine.

Now Playing: Wake Up from by Follow The Train

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October 20, 2006

The road to Emmaus

Going down to visit some old stomping grounds this weekend, in the territory where you don’t need a permit to park on the street. I’m not sure what ‘net access, if any, I’ll have.

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October 19, 2006

Silver lining dept.

If you have a head cold, you can chop onions without tearing up.

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October 18, 2006

The best demonstrations are accidental

The scene: a group of undergraduates, maybe around thirty of them, selected from “under-represented” populations in given fields. (So, majority female, more racial minorities than usual at this university.) We’re in a large first-floor lounge near the lobby of a dormitory.

The discussion is about social class, that subtle discrimination that we pretend doesn’t exist in this country. We’re discussing ways we’ve noticed class differences on campus, and one of the students points out in the lobby at a big stack of brightly colored cloth bags. “There’s one right there.”

“I was wondering about those,” says the facilitator. “What are they?”

Almost in unison, the students chorus, “Laundry bags.”

“Do you mean some students have their laundry done for them? Don’t all the dorms have laundry machines?”

In unison again, “Yes.”

The facilitator makes a face. I think they would have laughed, then, if it hadn’t been so sad.

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October 13, 2006

Izzy 5: Rodents 4

Iz caught another mouse tonight. Fortunately—or unfortunately—he likes playing with them more than he likes killing them, so we managed to round it up in a wastebasket and release it outdoors, as we have with his three bats.

I don’t know where he found it; he was just watching something intently in the hall shadows, so I asked, “What do you have, Iz?” And then one of the shadows broke left, and he rounded it up with a paw. No claws out, I noticed, though the mouse squeaked whenever he brushed it. For a few minutes there was a standoff under a bureau, with the mouse cornered against the wall but the furniture keeping Iz from getting a paw on it. Eventually the mouse went up on the baseboards and managed an end run, but eventually he ended up in my wastebasket.

Unlike the last one, Iz never pinned this one down long enough to get a bite, which may have something to do with its survival for outdoor release. It’s supposed to get pretty cold tonight, though, so I wonder if I really did the little guy any favors. And Iz, of course, is once again disappointed that I swiped another great toy without even getting a trophy photo.

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October 7, 2006

Deadline

To vote in state elections in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you must be registered to vote at least 20 days before the election. This year, I figure that means at least October 17, a week from Monday. I have my form filled here on the table, almost ready to send. You’ve been warned.

Now Playing: Shadows Tumble from Ghost Repeater Euro Bonus CD by Jeffrey Foucault

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September 24, 2006

To what?

I admit this one has me a bit puzzled.

What am I agreeing to?

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September 19, 2006

I wouldn't want to explain

I accidentally left the house with a cat distractor yesterday. All through the day, I was putting my hand in my pocket and thinking, “What the heck…” before remembering why there was a faux-fur mouse there.

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September 13, 2006

World's best

While “excitement” around here is limited to writing and grading labs and reading my own homework, last night I heard that one of my former co-workers is now a world record holder.

In the results of the 2006 World Masters Track Cycling Championships, being held this week in Manchester, England, you’ll find the women’s 500m time trial won in 36.997 by the former photo editor at RW. Her mark beats not only her own age group (35-39) record, but all the other masters records—in other words, it’s the fastest mark by any woman over 30.

Now, this is pretty cool just by itself, but it needs a little background. Emmaus is not too far from Trexlertown, PA, home of the Lehigh Valley Velodrome, a three-laps-per-kilometer concrete bowl in the cornfields which is one of the few Olympic-caliber velodromes in the USA. I remember going over to watch Liz race (and win) on a Saturday morning, and also going on Friday nights (the big nights) to watch her and other co-workers riding track bikes (no brakes, no coasting, no shifting) under the lights. And I remember when she tangled with another rider and got slammed to the track. After spending a few weeks in the hospital with a cracked jaw and the nicest shiner I’ve ever seen (we’ll not mention the condition of her helmet, which probably saved her life) she was out, back on the bike, and back in the velodrome.

And she’s still there.

Now Playing: You Wreck Me from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

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September 4, 2006

Ground rules

I’ve been doing this closer to three years than two, and I suspect there are a few dozen people who are reading without benefit of my occasional asides and meta-blogging explanations of what’s going on (when I bother to explain, that is,) so here are a few footnotes:

  • I tend not to identify myself, other people, my workplace(s), or my school(s) by full names. This is not out of any wishful attempt at anonymity. It is an attempt at maintaining something like what Scoplaw once called “googlenonymity”—keeping the links between my little vignettes and the actual people and institutions involved at a level more subtle than what search engines will recognize. So when I write about “The College” or “The University,” this is more than just a tic of personal language (though it is that, too.) I have assigned pseudonyms to a few faculty members; I will obviously not be discussing individual students except in their occasional roles as accomplices. The lone exception, of course, is the cat, who has many names, all of which are pseudonyms.

  • This is not a memoir, nor is it even a narrative. I will mention developments in my life and leave them unresolved. I will discuss resolutions without setting the scene. I will present context without relating it to issues, and I will discuss situations devoid of context. This is not meant to infuriate you, nor am I (normally) trying to hide anything; I’m simply lazy.

  • I try to write only about things which I find interesting and intriguing. However, sometimes when interesting and intriguing things are happening, I am simply too busy to write, and sometimes I think it is more important to continue writing about boring things than to fall silent entirely. So I make no promises about consistency, quality, or regularity.

  • If you want to know, ask. The worst I will do is politely decline to explain.

Now Playing: Almost from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

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Going way back

This weekend, at the wedding of a younger cousin, I talked with her other grandfather (i.e. not the one we shared.) Turns out that not only did he get his undergraduate and medical degrees at my current University—a feat now known as a “Double Jumbo” for reasons stemming from the University mascot—but he ran cross-country.

Class of 1936, or thereabouts. I wish the University posted all their old team photos the way the College did so I could see if I could find him.

The bride’s other grandparents were represented by a photo from their own wedding day; they were married in the same church about seventy years ago. The photo was taken at the reception, on the front lawn of the house I knew as theirs. In black and white, our grandfather looked even younger than than the ten or so years younger than this photo, with even more hair; our grandmother looked startlingly like the mother of this weekend’s bride.

My older niece was easily distracted, playing with her necklace; the younger, rapt. I whispered, “Promise you’ll invite me when it’s your turn?” She nodded solemnly.

Now Playing: Leave Them All Behind from Going Blank Again by Ride

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August 29, 2006

Heads up

I picked up a penny a few days ago. It was heads up in the parking lot of the softball fields across the street. I’ve been looking at the mint years more often, and this one turned out to be the year I was born.

I pick up a lot of pennies, but I don’t usually think about luck; this time I did.

And how, I thought, could a penny make me more lucky than I already am?

Now Playing: Rollerskate Skinny from Satellite Rides by Old 97’s

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Information architecture for athletics events: wild speculation and idealism

If anyone actually read through both of my previous posts on web coverage of major track meets and open data formats for training logs, they may have seen the link between them. On the other hand, that might be evidence that this person thinks enough like me to require professional help of some sort.

I described the team and technical skills I would want to provide good coverage of a track meet, but I didn’t describe much of the technology they might use to make it happen. I raised the question of whether a consultant could make a business out of setting up such coverage for multiple events, but didn’t address the issue of integrating such standardized coverage with a wildly heterogeneous array of event websites. The answer to this, as I hinted in the training logs post, is more information architecture—a service-based architecture.

More similarly dull ideas after the jump…

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August 25, 2006

Because eight months is better than never

Remember the T’s on-time service guarantee, and how we filed a complaint after our bad bus experience? And how we heard nothing from the T for quite a while?

The refunds (two subway tokens apiece) came today, eight months after we submitted the paperwork.

Note to future claimants: make sure you have an up-to-date forwarding address.

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August 19, 2006

As close as I'd ever really want to get

“Give them plenty of space,” said A. “We don’t want to be too close when they flip over.”

Of course, she was joking about the car ahead of us on a winding stretch of road, but I did give them plenty of space as they appeared to be looking for an opportunity to pass some of the cars in front of them.

But the fact that she’d said that made it somehow more startling when, on a straight, flat stretch, they pulled out as if to pass, then kept going off the left side of the road, launched off a dirt embankment, and stopped against a tree, resting on a fieldstone wall.

We made the 911 call, and were there an extra 45 minutes or so, making statements to a state trooper.

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August 5, 2006

Squirreled away

A side effect of my family’s business is that when a project doesn’t get off the ground, there are often left-over parts. And a consequence of the age of the business is that these parts and materials can acquire ages into decades while waiting for another calling.

This afternoon, for example, I helped my father haul three lengths of heavy-duty culvert (thick-walled PVC pipe, about thirteen feet long and maybe a foot in diameter) out of a collapsed shed and load them onto a truck for delivery to a work site. There were probably seven or eight more lengths left in the shed; my father speculated that they had originally been bought for a redevelopment project of my grandfather’s which didn’t take off. (If I looked in enough corners of the woods down there, I might find a supply of clay culvert sections, on the order of eighteen inches per section and maybe four inches in diameter, from some unidentified project even further back.)

This particular shed, which was old even when I first remember it, appears to have simply become tired enough to lie down, like the sagging barns you can see on back roads throughout New England. The side walls just picked a direction to tip, and a rectangular cross-section of the shed temporarily became a parallelogram before going completely flat. The roof, which may or may not have had holes even when the shed was standing, just lay down on top; we extracted the pipes through a gap in what had been the rear wall.

It’s possible that this wasn’t a spontaneous collapse; other sheds are supporting (or fallen under) downed trees or tree limbs.

For the most part, it’s simplest and easiest to simply leave the contents—generally building supplies—where they are, as they’re equally as protected under the collapsed sheds as they were by the standing ones. The trick lies in remembering what’s where.

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August 3, 2006

Litter doesn't scale

Firecracker wreckageFirecracker wreckage

From our front windows, it looks just like the kind of plant litter you’d see under a hanging plant which just dropped its red blossoms, or maybe a pile of small, reddish autumn leaves someone raked together but didn’t haul off.

When you get closer, though, you can tell it’s paper. In fact, it’s firecrackers: thousands of the little ones sold in “mats” of a few dozen with entwined fuses and wrapped in thin red tissue paper. Sometime around 10:30 last night, someone stacked a large number of those packs together—maybe even with a meta-fuse or something like that—and lit the whole stack at once, producing a tremendous racket lasting nearly a minute and a plume of smoke that would’ve been visible for several miles in daylight.

The softball games that run pretty much constantly from spring through fall in the park across the street from us are generally only a minor annoyance; they can make it hard to park on the street, sometimes they’re noisy, and the lights are on until 11 PM or so. On the other hand, it gives some life to the neighborhood, and brings a lot of people outside to move around and have fun.

It’s never clear to me who the league organizers are. Once I spotted Boston Sports Clubs logos on t-shirts, but it looks like there are several leagues which use this field through the course of the year; sometimes it looks like it’s a police league, or a fire department team, or something like that. I presume any non-resident leagues pay the City of Medford (which rakes, mows, and lines the field regularly,) for the use of the park.

Of course, some of the yahoos who play tend to forget that there are people living here. Since late June, late-night pyrotechnics have been a relatively unwelcome off-and-on feature after the last game. More common is for a bunch of players to hang around drinking beer until the lights go off, but for the most part all they leave behind is a lot of beer bottle caps and the occasional broken bottle. The fireworks, particularly if the windows are open and we’re not running the AC, can really set your teeth on edge.

And sometimes they leave behind massive quantities of litter. Come on guys, how old do you have to be before you recognize the responsibility to pick up after your fun?

Now Playing: Tomorrowland from Play by The Nields

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August 2, 2006

By name

I have been doing a lot of thinking in recent weeks about my connection with my hometown. Quite a lot of it has to do with actually understanding that community relative to the rest of the country, hence my strong response to reading The Lobster Coast.

The more immediate aspect was illustrated this weekend, when I was in a shop downtown, talking with the owner, and she said, “You look like one of John’s boys.” (I am.) It reminded me of when I was working in the lumber company, back in high school, and a customer made the same observation; we had to take a second to disambiguate, because in his context, I was actually “one of John’s boy’s boys”—he was talking about my grandfather.

There’s a lot to be said about this kind of recognition; it’s an instant connection to a community, in a way that doesn’t happen much nowadays. This is a mixed blessing, though, because every connection comes freighted with all past interactions with the rest of your family, and I don’t think there’s a family in the world where all such interactions are viewed positively.

I’d love to have a neat, pithy denouement for this observation, but there isn’t one. It’s a situation everyone resolves in their own way, assuming they even consider it, and the resolution is the way you live your life, not a few sentences I can write here.

Now Playing: East of the Mountains from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst

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August 1, 2006

Exam room ambiance

When we used to take Iz to the vet in Northampton, he would make noises we’d never hear at any other time. He’ll yowl and howl any other time, but only on the way to the vet (and in the waiting room, and until we were back in the car,) did he ever growl.

Today was his first visit to the vet out here, and for the most part he was pretty good about it. The yappy dogs in the waiting room bothered him (we went to a cat-only vet in Northampton,) but they didn’t start him growling. It wasn’t until I lugged him into the examination room proper that the noises started. “Rrrrrrrr,” he said pointedly, in a register at least two octaves below his normal speaking voice. “Rrrrrrrr.”

What was it? The smell of the room? There were cat posters on the walls, a little Mac Mini on the counter showing his database entry, and the standard metal table; maybe it’s the table that set him off.

I put my face down to the carrier and talked to him, and he seemed to stop growling until it was time to dump him out of the carrier and let the vet examine him. She started off well by complimenting his appearance, but he got no points for good behavior—she had to ask “Daddy” to hold him so he couldn’t bite her. (This, too, with a compliment—“What good teeth he has!”)

They have three-year rabies shots now, but given Iz’s taste for bats, I opted to continue the annual schedule. We’re supposed to be on the lookout for unusual behavior, but Iz is pretty bulletproof as far as vets are concerned; even back when he had his spark plugs out and they told us he might be lethargic, he was tearing around the apartment as though nothing had happened.

I’m not sure I’ve been forgiven for this trip yet. We’ll see tomorrow morning when the breakfast campaign starts.

Now Playing: The Precience Of Dawn from Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans

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July 28, 2006

Beautiful

This story made my morning:

KYOTO, Japan - Genshitsu Sen, the 15th grand master of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony, is known as a goodwill ambassador, having visited 62 countries on 300 occasions to promote peace through tea.

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July 25, 2006

Finally allowed

I had a gift certificate to Adiago, and today I got an email from them reminding me that it was about to expire. So I went to their site and tried to redeem it. I’m getting close to the bottom of my clearance campaign (yeah, it took me a few months,) and it’s about time I actually bought some tea. I’ve gotten used to my two-cups pot and loose tea, so no more supermarket bags for now.

First, Adiago’s cart said my order was free—so I tried adding some items to use the GC, and instead my original item became un-free. And I couldn’t get the cart to admit that I had a valid credit card; I kept trying to move to different stages in the order process, and it either wouldn’t give me a tally of how it figured my total, or wouldn’t let me enter payment information. So, I abandoned it. I couldn’t really decide which of their flavors I wanted; I was underwhelmed by the sampler I bought several months ago.

Instead, I went looking for (and found!) Fortnum and Mason in the US. I’m working on the end of a tin of their 185 blend now, it’s absolutely heavenly, but it’s also a limited edition and probably not even available at 185 Picadilly (where I originally bought it, seven years ago.) They do have more of the Millennium tea I polished off before the 185 blend, and that may be what I get, but there’s also Russian Caravan, pretty powerful stuff. Maybe both? After all, the semester will be starting in five or six weeks.

Now Playing: King of the World from Countdown to Ecstasy by Steely Dan

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July 21, 2006

Ironing out

We’re off to a wedding this weekend, so I had to drag out my jacket and tie—clothes I pretty much only wear to weddings and funerals. We would have four weddings this summer, but by a curious clumsiness of scheduling, they’re on only two weekends, so we had to pass on two of them.

This prompted another somewhat-less-than-once-a-year exercise: ironing. I used to be good at ironing shirts; I think this was maybe in high school. Now, since I practice so rarely, I’m not very good. I figured as long as I was doing the relevant wedding clothes, I might as well do my other problem shirts, so after doing one relatively thoroughly, I did quick runs over four or five others. It wasn’t quite as hasty as sweeping wrinkles under the rug, but I knew I wasn’t likely to be wearing ties with these, at least not outside the other wedding.

I would probably be better at this if I had a “real” (full-sized) ironing board; I feel like I spent more time adjusting the shirts for the next swipe than I did actually ironing. But why get a full-sized board when I use it so rarely?

Now Playing: Don’t Deny by Michelle Anthony

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July 19, 2006

Don't make me leave my work and rush downstairs for that

“This announcement is for the parents of children aged four to nineteen. Neighborhood Bible time is coming—”

*click*

Now Playing: Hallelujah from Demolition by Ryan Adams

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July 16, 2006

I figure it out eventually

Many people know I’m a tea drinker. I’m relatively particular about my tea, but in unusual ways—for example, though I like a lot of tea from the snooty British marks, in a pinch I’m happy to drink Red Rose or whatever’s handy. And I can get along with green tea sometimes, but I’m probably already supplied for life.

One thing I definitely don’t like is fruity tea; I avoid “herbals” and I can’t really even get along with black tea with fruit flavors. I have two containers of tea fitting that description, unfortunately, both given to me with the best of intentions by people who are probably reading this. I’ve tried it, and I can’t get past the smell. Can’t figure out what to do with the tea.

But yesterday it hit me: hot tea is one thing, but iced tea is quite another. Jackpot.

Now Playing: Leo Jokela by Nieminen & Litmanen

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July 13, 2006

An impossible dream

Iz’s birthday, we figure, is just a few weeks away. Right now, he’s telling me in his most beseeching tones that what he really wants is one of those pigeons hanging out on the roof of the next house over.

Posted by pjm at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2006

I hate to be a whiner, but...

Remember the MBTA refund we requested, from the bus that never showed back in December?

It’s July. No word from the MBTA.

At least they could send us a note telling us they wouldn’t be giving us a refund?

Now Playing: Full Of Steam from Night Opens by Rich Price

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July 5, 2006

"Vacation"

Friday evening, I finished up the final for my summer session class. Assuming I didn’t crash dismally, that’s seven classes down and three to go (plus some kind of project/thesis) for the MS. I’ve also covered all the required courses (except the undergrad courses I can’t get credit for.)

I’m hoping now that I can spend all my time either on catching up on hours for MPOW (where I’ve now heard people I don’t actually work for saying they hope I’ll be back next (academic) year,) or a particular writing project I’ve been doing some research for. It’s funny how quickly the summer got booked to the gills; here it’s just been one weekend in July, and I already feel like there’s a limited quantity of weekends to be hoarded, like donuts in a bag.

I have a bunch of posts in mind, most of which consist of bullets on a list somewhere here in ecto. Some of them I might actually write. But in the last few weeks I’ve been (unconsciously) changing the way I’ve been using my online time. I don’t know if the shifts will be visible here, but it’s possible. While I’ve been busy, I kept starting posts in my head, but I couldn’t mentally bring them to a high enough priority to actually key them in.

This is a pretty involved question, to me, but for you it may be simple. For you, what’s the utility of me writing here? And, do you think that should matter to me?

Now Playing: Hotel Womb from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:24 PM | Comments (3)

June 22, 2006

Under the circumstances

It may be best to consider this site on hiatus until after July 4.

It’s not that I have nothing to say; it’s that I have too many other, more important things riding on me with tight deadlines.

Posted by pjm at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

Like I have time

More things I haven’t posted about, and may not get to:

  • Timing is everything. Just read.

  • What to do with Iz when we’re at a five-day track meet?

  • We can prove nearly anything by induction, plus a few logic operators and the concept of time.

  • There’s someone else who shares my name. Actually, there are several of us (at least five, I gather,) but this one is six and his mother sent me email, so I wrote to him. It was fun.

Posted by pjm at 10:28 PM | Comments (1)

June 4, 2006

The late nighters

When we got back to Amherst at 1 AM, we could still hear the music coming from the College. Actually, past 2. I assume that was the class of ‘01, and from today’s reports, that was the case.

As someone in my class pointed out, at the five year reunion, you still feel like you have something to prove. At ten years, she pointed out, “Not many of the women are wearing makeup.”

Posted by pjm at 4:11 PM | Comments (1)

June 2, 2006

Bullets

  • I spent today at my 10-year college reunion. I had more fun than I expected. I also think I talked too much and didn’t listen enough. But I remembered a bunch of great people I went to college with, and that made me happy.
  • My editor at iaaf.org saved me the trouble of revising my New York preview by tagging on a “STOP PRESSES” line about the addition of Marion Jones and Lauryn Williams to the women’s 100m. I think Williams is more interesting than Jones at this point, but Marion does have a slew of Olympic medals which can’t be ignored.
  • One of my classmates married one of my teammates from a few classes older, so I got to hear about all of them. That was pretty cool.
  • After four years of being on campus and not expecting to recognize anyone, it was a little strange to see people I knew there.

Posted by pjm at 9:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2006

Phone spam

Unidentified caller: Is Mr. [A’s family name] there?
Me: There’s a [AFN] here, but no Mr. [AFN].
U.C.: How about Mrs. [AFN]?
Me: No, none of those, either.
U.C.: Well, look, I’m from R&J Painters. Do you need any outdoor painting done?
Me: We don’t own the house.
U.C.: Well, why not? Buy, dammit, buy!

Then he hung up. I think this is the first time a telemarketer has ever hung up on me instead of vice versa.

[Ed. Note: I could be mis-remembering the company name.]

Posted by pjm at 6:49 PM | Comments (2)

Accurate estimates

Yesterday involved a birthday-present-opening session for my younger niece, and I gave her and her older sister some presents I bought for them in Japan.

I knew the girls like dressing up, so I wanted to find something pretty and dressy for them. I wound up at an import shop near the hotel with some Chinese embroidered-silk outfits. The problem was, how would I find something that fit?

Like many people in Japan, the shopkeeper had a few words of English, so I was able to explain the issue: brother’s daughters. Ages. Then I estimated heights with my hands. She thought the one in my hands would do for the older one; then she found a smaller outfit for the younger one. I crossed my fingers and put down my credit card: there would be no returns if I blew the sizing.

Yesterday, they wanted to put them on at once, and sure enough, it all fits, and a bit large, fortunately. (Better to be too large than too small.) I’m not sure they necessarily have the respect for nice clothes they’ll need to take good care of these, (I visualize grass and food stains,) but maybe their parents will keep an eye on them. I’m just pleased that I guessed their sizes more-or-less correctly.

Posted by pjm at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2006

Being watched

A (and others) think I attribute overly-sophisticated or human thoughts and motives to Iz sometimes. It’s quite possible that I do; his behavior is simple enough to fit a wide variety of interpretations, and his manner sufficiently inscrutable (perhaps it’s because he doesn’t speak English) that he implies some unspoken motives.

All the same, we’re his entire social group. He has times when he wants to be by himself, of course, particularly when he’s patrolling the upstairs windows against the neighborhood pigeons. (You can’t trust those pigeons.) But there are other times when he stays close by—if we’re in different rooms, he’ll stake out a spot in between us.

Nobody believes me when I say this, but when A is away, he demands more attention from me. Last night, he was prowling around my office maiowing—he didn’t want me to scratch behind his ears, he didn’t want dinner, he just wanted to be the center of attention.

Or so I figure.

Posted by pjm at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

Clearing decks

Much as I agree with this list, once you cross all those things off the list, there’s not much left to write about.

I have been using some of my post-semester time to catch up on things I put off, like cleaning (I had boxes left over from the move in my office) and organizing (I’m still finding people I need to send change-of-address letters to, even though current betting has me doing it all over again a bit more than a year from now.)

Last October, the state set some records for rainfall, and apparently we’re threatening them again. We’ve had, off and on, a lake in the park across the street, and the requisite seagulls to go with it. Still, the massive lights for the late softball games come on every night, apparently on a timer. In the rain and fog, they look somehow surreal. I was trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and all I could come up with was a track meet after the last event, when the spectators have gone but the officials, press, and some of the athletes are still finishing up their work. It has that atmosphere, but unlike the track meets, there’s absolutely nobody out there.

Now Playing: Munich by Editors

Posted by pjm at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2006

Leaving

The CS department is sufficiently removed from the main campus that we get more than a little detached from the ebb and flow of the university. Some of my GA work, though, requires me to visit campus and use what I dubbed the “top-secret lab” in the basement of one of the dorms. I went by today, and even the incessant rain hasn’t reduced the traffic. Yesterday was one of the last days of exams; all the undergraduates except seniors and a subset of athletes are now headed home. Since many seniors live off-campus, this means the dorms are emptying out, and there’s a gridlock of SUVs, small vans, and other cargo-haulers in the residential sections.

I barely know any of them, only the ones who were in my labs, but I know what it’s like to close the door on an apartment for the last time. I think you have to be young to do that every year for four years; I don’t think I could bear it, now. Even without the rain, I think it would have a tinge of sadness to it.

Then again, I didn’t spend the last eight months in one of those cramped concrete caves. Perhaps if I had, I’d be seeing a taste of relief in all the activity as well.

Now Playing: Crashin’ In from The Charlatans by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 2:37 PM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2006

Virtual community

I’ve half-written posts on this topic before. Can’t really express it well, but thinking about it more doesn’t seem to get me anywhere, either, so maybe you can see if this explains what I’m getting at?

Joan paid me a nice compliment a few days ago, including me in a very short list of daily reads. I’m more interested in the context, though, because it hits pretty close to a sort of personality split I’ve had over this site ever since I started it.

Like most bloggers, I have favorite sites I visit every day (…list…) which creates a feeling of community (in my mind only, perhaps… uh, that’s a little scary if you think about it—not unlike hearing “voices”).

I think this is the common theme: that we’re posting a few words on a regular basis in the hope of contributing to some kind of community. The weirdest part is that we probably don’t know to what degree we’re successful. I had no idea Joan checks in here, though it’s not surprising; I can probably name four or five people I’m pretty sure are reading a given post, but there are probably three times as many I don’t know—won’t ever know, in fact.

Now, we tie in two more ideas: Ralph’s comparison of weblogs (which he calls “Blogistan,”) with the old watering holes of Usenet. (If you don’t remember Usenet, don’t worry.) Grossly oversimplified, Ralph’s point is that weblogs are a lousy tool for building communities.

More recently, Sherry’s “Please check in” post. Stay of Execution is a contender, among my regular reads, for best community; Sherry has somehow attracted and retained a (relatively) large, positive audience, and also has a curious talent for speaking to us/them in a way that both allows us to feel like we’re part of this larger community, but also has a tone as though every post is written just for each individual. Late last week she asked, for reasons unknown, for us to stand up, raise a hand and introduce ourselves; last I looked, there were nearly 130 comments on that post. 130! That’s a bit larger than the little dinner party I was imagining in my head.

The reason I find this fascinating is that I’m perpetually curious about what kind of ripples are coming from this site—in Joan’s term, whose minds I’m speaking in. Yet I consciously avoid trying to measure it overtly. I don’t write like Sherry does, in a way that encourages response and interplay between readers; you can see that just by looking at the comment counts on my posts. This site is not a community in itself, and I think if it was I’d be so self-conscious I’d be perpetually blocked. Instead, as Joan describes, I’m more of a voice in a community you’re each putting together yourselves.

And the tradeoff is that I have no idea who [most of] you are, when you’re reading, how closely, why, etc., and I feel like there’s a sort of observer effect at work: if I ask, it will change things.

So you could say that this entire site—much like the one Joan cites in the body of her post—is a venture in getting comfortable with things I can’t know.

Now Playing: Underneath The Bunker from Life’s Rich Pageant by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2006

Story from a bygone age

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I had a roommate from Connecticut. At holidays, he would drive home, and I’d have him drop me off at Newark airport so I could fly up to Maine.

At some point, the heater core in his car started leaking. The heater core, at least in that car, is warmed by hot coolant fluid from the engine block, which is circulated through (coincidentally cooling in the process,) then piped back to the engine to suck up some more heat. When the heater core started leaking, his car reeked of antifreeze, so he took the in and out hoses of the core and short-circuited them so no fluid passed through the core. He also had no heat in the car, but that’s only a minor annoyance; I do recall getting in his car once and having him hand me a blanket.

After driving up to a wedding in New York one winter and having to scrape frost off the inside of his windshield, he finally decided to fix the heater core. Not two days later—and, I might add, the day before we were headed home for Thanksgiving—he discovered that there was a leak in his gas tank. Like many tanks, it was a stamped top and bottom welded together; it was coming apart (and leaking) at the seam. This was discovered by the town fire marshal during a fire drill at our office.

He deduced that as long as the gauge showed he had less than half a tank of gas, there were no leaks, so we had a tentative drive to the airport. But not before I had hauled out my book of Frost and recited “Fire and Ice” to him, of course.

With that in mind, consider the link “L’el” sent last night: If Robert Frost had been a software geek.

Now Playing: Riding on the Subway from The Fine Art Of Self Destruction by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 4:18 PM | Comments (0)

April 9, 2006

Flickering

Dying camera

It looks like my camera is suffering, and as a result, I don’t have (m)any photos from Japan. This is one of the ones I took before I gave up, of Fukuoka harbor from my hotel window.

I had hoped that the problem was just the LCD on the back, but since the actual photos show the distortion as well, now I’m thinking it’s somewhere near the CCD—either a distortion above the CCD, or a weak connection between the CCD and the rest of the system.

This has been a good camera for me, so even though it’s possible to get something smaller/sharper/faster/newer, I’m going to see if I can get it fixed, first. If it can’t be fixed, I’ll probably look for another Pentax this summer.

Now Playing: Losing Lisa from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 12:05 PM | Comments (1)

March 31, 2006

The Campaign for Real Cross Country

My colleague for the weekend Steven Downes on why non-Africans might do better when the World Cross course is less fast.

Posted by pjm at 5:54 PM | Comments (0)

I am absent-minded

There’s something frustrating about leaving a few hundred dollars worth of electronics and prescription eyewear in a drawer when you switch hotel rooms, particularly when the hotel staff all speaks enough English to mostly understand you, but not enough to really figure out what’s wrong.

On the other hand, there’s something special about the relief when not only do they deliver the missing items to your (new) door, but it has all been bubble-wrapped.

Posted by pjm at 7:41 AM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2006

Comparitives

I don’t think I’ve ever done a sun-and-sand vacation before. I learned some things.

  • Driving on the left: Easier than I expected.
  • Red Stripe lager: Better than Sam Adams.
  • Sunblock: Nearly as important as food.
  • Goggles: Just as good as a mask, if you don’t need to breathe through a straw.
  • Turtles: Much bigger than the ones in Maine.
  • “I still have sand between my toes”: Apparently meant more literally than I expected.
  • Ocean: Thirty-five degrees (or so) warmer is a big difference.

Posted by pjm at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

In the unlikely event that you miss me

I’m taking a vacation. If we hadn’t planned it seven or so months ago, I probably wouldn’t be, but we did, so I am.

I’m sort of hoping there’s no ‘net access for a while.

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2006

Doing the responsible thing

I called my parents and told them I wasn’t coming home this weekend. I’d hoped I could check off the stuff on my list and pay them a visit this weekend, but as the programming assignment due dates got later (and the programs didn’t get written) it started looking sketchy. For a while I fantasized that I’d log in and finish up from there on Saturday; it wasn’t until I admitted to myself that that was a fantasy that I realized how much I really don’t want to spend the weekend here, working.

I was doing this last weekend, too; I’d hoped to swim a meet Sunday morning at BU, but I realized I needed to get work done more than I needed to swim, so I skipped it. Now I’m hoping that once the press is over—both programs are due Saturday at midnight—that I can spend some Sunday getting ahead on next week. And maybe I can spend a little time on myself—I need to dig up a good pair of sunglasses, and I need some paperbacks to travel with in the next month.

Now Playing: Dream Thrum from Laid by James

Posted by pjm at 7:10 PM | Comments (1)

March 6, 2006

Easiest interview ever

Mark Plaatjes:

“I have plenty of time,” says Plaatjes. “I have a good partner at the running store, and good employees. My work is fun, it’s not stressful to me. It’s easy when you enjoy what you do. I ask people who come for physical therapy about what they do, and you can tell from the first word if they like what they do. Some people aren’t happy, but they’re scared to move. I love talking to people who enjoy their work.”

I may still clear up some loose ends with my unreachable runner, but Mark was the last of my articles for the marathon program. I talked to eight runners for four articles, and I think I can honestly say I enjoyed talking with all eight of them. I should remind myself of that now and then, because I’m horrible about calling people and I was mentally resisting each call up until I dialed the last digit and heard the ring on the other end.

I’ll probably post the full text of the articles here next month, as we’re closer to the marathon. It will be the rough copy I sent in, not the tight, glossy articles my editor will undoubtedly make from them, but if I’ve done anything like a decent job, they’ll still hold a little spark of the enthusiasm they all had for the race.

Now Playing: True from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 5, 2006

Blaming the victims

This article about MBTA refund fraud may explain our remarkably delayed refunds . But something still smells fishy.

If you’re experiencing “a huge jump in the refunds” for delayed service, isn’t it possible—in fact, a simpler hypothesis—that your customers have experienced a huge jump in delayed service? I’m not saying there isn’t fraud, but this does sound an awful lot like “the customer is always wrong and not to be trusted” to me.

The thing that really galls me is that when we were living in the western end of the state, we had the PVTA, and the PVTA was clean, comfortable, and largely on-time. And, if you were on one of the subsidized five-college routes, nearly free. But the PVTA kept cutting routes, because all the state public transit money was going to the MBTA.

Of course, the PVTA is under investigation now. I’m not sure why, but the degree to which this state is capable of bungling public transit boggles my mind. Mass transit doesn’t fail because people don’t use it; it fails because its administrators muck it up.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 3, 2006

Dead lined

Now is about the time I figured that the Week from Hell would be over. Except it’s not, depriving me of any sense of satisfaction I might have gained from having survived.

  • I managed to complete and hand in three of four assignments due in this week’s classes. The fourth was handed in… but the second of the two programs segfaults on execution, which means I might as well not have bothered. (More on this later.)

  • I’ve been desperately contacting nine runners all week for four articles I was assigned for the Boston Marathon race program. I have made contact with seven. #8 has not responded to three e-mail messages; the phone number I have for her has been busy every time I call. I’m not sure what my next step is; it seems like I’m perilously close to the line between tenacity and harassment. #9 hasn’t responded to email; tonight I start cold-calling. Those two are blocking two different articles; all four were expected by today. One of the two remaining ones is 90% written and waiting for actual quotes from #8; if I can’t reach her tonight, I’m sending it in without. Then, of course, she’ll see it in the program and wonder why she wasn’t contacted, not remembering all those emails she ignored back in February/March.

  • I’ve spent all of this afternoon clearing up my grading backlog. However, I’m now left with one remaining day of the week and a lot of hours yet to work for MPOW. I would be alarmed by this, but this is the third consecutive week where this has been the case, so instead I’m simply dejected that it has become status quo.

Now Playing: Alfred Hitchcock from Abigail by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 5:34 PM | Comments (2)

February 27, 2006

Patience and the T

Despite the helpful comments on Universal Hub, it has now been over two months waiting on the promised T refund. You’d think there would at least be some kind of “denied” notice if they weren’t sending it at all.

I’m tempted to file another request citing this delay as delayed service, but I doubt the MBTA has enough institutional humor to see the joke.

Now Playing: Chewing Gum Weekend from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:50 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2006

Vacation week

My brother and I took my nieces to the Boston Children’s Museum yesterday, along with every other parent of children between the ages of 3 and 8 in the Boston area (and, if my nieces are any indication, much of the rest of the region.) It was mobbed.

I’m not sure the girls learned much, but they had a good time. Quite a few of the exhibits, unfortunately, were the worse for wear, or had poor user interface. For example, the “Boats Afloat” section had a pretend harbor boat with a video screen over the helm showing voyages around Boston harbor. There were buttons to shift the videos between different vessels: a tour boat leaving from the Museum of Science, a lobster boat, a water taxi, etc. But the kids didn’t latch on to that; they just hammered on the buttons in succession, looking for something to light up. I think the buttons were disabled, at that, and the videos on a predetermined loop. Weird.

We also discovered that a potentially expensive loop through the museum store can be avoided by a trip through the Recycle store on the second floor.

And, I think I was the only one at the Sarah Harmer show Friday night whose hand-stamp at the door was applied on top of an Arthur stamp from the Children’s Museum.

Now Playing: Pendulums from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 1:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2006

There's good news...

…and then there’s bad news.

For example, we recently discovered that our neighbors’ car wasn’t stolen, as we had previously thought.

Instead, it had been hauled away after being crushed when the mast holding a set of lights for the softball field across the street blew down on top of it.

Good news: Medford’s not going to the dogs.

Bad news: insurance covers theft, not inadvertent demolition by falling poles.

Now Playing: The Work That We Do from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2006

Drinking down

There’s something about tea drinkers, that we accumulate the stuff. I filled most of a (smallish) box with various bags, boxes and tins of tea when we last moved, which is silly considering that my habit has been to get a box of Twinings at the grocery store.

A few months ago, I resolved to drink more than I bought for a while. Aside from regularly marveling at my own pack-rat tendencies, I’ve learned a few things. For the most part, I liked bags because they were convenient, but my little two-mug Bodum pot is actually more tea-efficient than bags. By making pots at a time, I get more beverage from roughly the same amount of loose tea, and it’s easier to clean than one-mug infusers. Once the tea is brewed, I can take the infuser section out and re-heat the pot in the microwave, as well.

I’ve also discovered that the little sampler tins from Adiago go farther when I make pots than if I was going cup by cup.

I’ve managed to clear out one tin and get pretty close to finishing off a second. The first was Fortnum & Mason “Millennium Tea,” which was OK; the second is actually from Harrod’s, a box of their “Kenyan Tea” emptied into a previously-used F&M tin (Keemun, I think,) with the box panel then taped on the tin. Both date back to the week or so I spent in London after the 1999 World Championships (aka my trip to Seville,) so I’m not entirely sure why they’re still around, especially considering how good the Kenyan tea is. I suppose I’m worried that once it’s gone, I’ll never find any more, but this defies logic: if I don’t drink it, what good is it? It might as well be sawdust.

Next project: some of the tins, particularly the F&M one, are quite decorative. I can just recycle the little Adiago tins, nifty as they are, but it seems like I need a use for the F&M tin. Maybe I should move the “found money” collection in there?

Now Playing: The World At Large from Good News For People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse

Posted by pjm at 9:07 AM | Comments (3)

February 12, 2006

Increased demand

I’ll admit to a little admiration for the two boys who have (twice, already, today) rung our doorbell and offered to shovel the steps and the walk. They’re cruising the street for business which has been pretty slow, so far, this winter, and they’re out in the worst weather pursuing their business.

That said, though, not only is the snow still coming down (and the forecasts I’ve seen suggest we’re in for five or six more hours,) but it’s blowing like mad, and there’s as much drifting as there is falling. Any work they do now is likely to need re-doing in just a few hours. Certainly that’s a renewable resource from their point of view, but it also suggests that now isn’t the best time for me to be investing, if I was going to.

Meanwhile, our neighbors, who were out of town when the snow was forecast, have had their cars towed. I feel somehow responsible, though there was no way I could’ve moved the cars myself.

Now Playing: Listen Like Thieves from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

Posted by pjm at 3:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 2, 2006

Pocket check

The tickets to the Bruins game were marked, “No Bags,” so I made a stop at home to drop mine off. Fortunately I realized I’d left my ticket in it before I got on the T, but not before I’d nearly locked my bike in Davis Square.

The idea for the group trip to the game (“CS people are so much fun,” said one attendee’s wife, “Over in Child Development we just drink,”) was that of our Canadian classmate, for which we were all quite appreciative. Would that Boston sports fans were the same; I should’ve remembered the Sox-Yankees game I saw a few years ago. We were quite high in the balcony, but there were enough people behind us to raise a decent boo when François put on his Canadiens jersey. I’m always disappointed; I wish I could still be surprised. François was not bothered; he observed, “They must not have noticed that this is the TD Banknorth Garden, and ‘TD’ is ‘Toronto Dominion.’”

When Les Habs scored the first goal, that flushed out the rest of the Canadians in the crowd—those little pockets of people standing. There was a big party a few rows down from us, with one particularly vocal guy who turned around at us, shouting “Habs! Habs! Habs!” in the same tone of voice you’d use for “In your face!” He quieted down later, of course.

But if there’s a saving point to Boston fans, it’s that they’re even-handed in their distribution of foul-mouthed opprobrium. They felt free to boo whoever they wanted: the Canadiens, the refs, and the Bruins all got about an equal share. If you want to see New England cynicism in action, a Bruins game is a great place for it: a big collection of people who’ve paid decent money for the privilege of sitting with a beer and bitching about something they profess to enjoy.

(Our group, of course, was having a good time, despite some of us cheering for the losing side.)

Posted by pjm at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 1, 2006

Fine, just gloat

I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but folks, I sent an honest question by email to a developers list. I do not need to know which members of the list are on vacation.

If you set up out-of-office, unsubscribe from lists before you go. Or have it ignore list-mail, whichever is easiest.

Posted by pjm at 6:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2006

Four on Friday

We are in a section of the day which has long been known as “Is it time?” time. It is so named because our third roommate (the one who always wears stripes) is on a limited diet, and he’s always hungry well in advance of dinnertime. The period from 4 to 5 is the worst, because the hunger has woken him from his nap, and he’s determined that dinnertime is now. He keeps poking his face in the work of whoever is home, asking, “Is it time? Is it time?” This is particularly difficult when you’re working on a laptop, because he’ll sit behind the screen, then reach around and paw at your tapping fingers. He’s turned on Caps Lock on this machine more often than I have.

Sometimes he can be distracted for a few minutes with a toy or two, but this is a recipe for frequent interruption; I’ve been working half an hour on this already. But lest anyone think I’m bitter, I offer four things about Iz.

  • He’s friendly. Every other cat I’ve lived with has primarily been interested in minding its own business, and tolerated adulation as part of the cost of a regular meal ticket. Iz appears to prefer company to solitude, even preferring to sleep near us—he has a bed next to A’s desk.

  • He’s ambitious. Cats, in general, don’t like to fail, and so they’ll only attempt what they’re sure they can handle. Iz is more than willing to make a standing high-jump with a half-twist to intercept a flying styrofoam disk in the air, or vault from the floor to a countertop just a little higher than he can reach. He prefers you don’t laugh too long when he fails, of course.

  • He’s social. He looks you in the eyes when he wants something from you. And, oh yeah, he’s talking to you.

  • He’s adorable. You might just have to take my word on this.

Oh, look, it’s time.

Now Playing: Which Way Should I Jump? from Slinky by milltown brothers

Posted by pjm at 5:18 PM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2006

No wonder the bus never came

There’s an article in today’s Globe explaining that the T is suffering from rampant driver absenteeism.

[MBTA General Manager] Grabauskas also said the absenteeism forces the authority to drop scheduled train or trolley runs, which cost “us the good will of our customers who rely on our published service schedules, which in turn costs us lost revenue at a time when we can least afford it.”

That sounds awfully familiar. (And why has nobody made the obvious “absen-T” pun?) I suppose it also explains why, despite having mailed On-Time Service Guarantee cards over a month ago, we’ve heard nothing back from the MBTA. And that our traffic problems have less to do with inadequate public transportation than they do with shoddy management of the public transportation we have.

Posted by pjm at 9:05 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2006

An idea whose time has come

Aren’t there enough people running a mega-marathon (or, in the case of Boston, otherwise prevented from watching it on TV,) that it would be worthwhile to press a run of DVDs of the telecast?

I suppose the answer is “licensing”—the marathon organization licenses only broadcast rights to the television people, who then justifiably consider the output theirs (and thereby out of the mitts of the marathon organization.) It seems like it would benefit both to find some way to make that video available later—particularly considering the time (and sometimes expense) some fans of the sport put in to collecting copies of copies of tapes. We’ve got nearly every other variety of formerly-ephemeral television available on DVD now; why not mega-marathons?

Now Playing: True from Winter Pays For Summer by Glen Phillips

Posted by pjm at 4:16 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2006

Sometimes it doesn't pay to dig too deep

As a reader, I prefer to find authors I like, then try to consume their entire output. Sometimes this works; sometimes there are one or two dogs that need avoiding. But I’m not the first to point out that an author’s name is a brand, and consumers follow that brand for a reason.

My aunt knows this, and is good about keeping me up to date on the recent output of (say) Bernd Heinrich. She’s also aware that I have the family gene for seafaring books, many of which I poached from my grandfather’s library. I’ve read and reread C.S. Forester’s Hornblower Saga to the point of memorization (the DVD set arrived at Christmas, but I’ve only had time to watch two of them,) so she’s managed to dig up The Hornblower Companion and the unlikely Life and Times volume. (Nothing like a biography of a fictional character, that’s what I say.)

Last weekend, she handed me two tiny paperbacks which turned out to be some of Forester’s lesser-known work. And deservedly so, as far as I can tell. The Nightmare is a collection of bleak short stories about Nazi Germany; Brown on Resolution has some glowing reviews (and plot synopses) on Amazon, but just felt overly melodramatic to me; a lengthy stage-setting for an ending that can’t really live up to its introduction.

The books are pocket-sized paperbacks from, my aunt thought, the library book sale, and the pencilled prices inside the front cover bear that out. The printed prices are more fun: Australia 80c, N.Z. 75c, Spain 65 Pts. Brown on Resolution notes, inside the cover, that the first printing was in 1929, this edition was 1963, and this was the sixth (1972) printing of that edition. Evidently this one was well-liked in its day.

Forester really is unpredictable, though. I read many of his more obscure titles from the library back in the day, and there are some which weren’t terribly memorable (The Good Shepherd) there were others (The Gun, The Captain From Connecticut) which were pretty powerful in their own way. His collections of stories, like The Man in the Yellow Raft and Gold From Crete, made excellent school-bus reading. The take-away message seems to be that if you follow the brand of the author, you can’t expect everything to be top of the line.

Now Playing: Other Side from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 9:10 PM | Comments (0)

January 6, 2006

Another layer of language maps

There was a lot of ‘net buzz a few years ago about the dialect survey and the resulting maps.

Lately I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue, which came before he started in on travel writing, but probably after (or maybe concurrently with) his Dictionary of Troublesome Words.

Bryson postulates that the varied accents (and dialects!) of the British Isles can be attributed to the languages of the populations which settled the corresponding regions: Norse, Angles, Saxons, Danes, etc. He further explains that much of the dialect variation of the American east coast matches the origins of the English populations who settled there. (And not just English; if you think the German population of Pennsylvania isn’t still torquing the grammar of those who live there, you’ve never spent much time in Pennsylvania.)

I wonder if you could combine both concepts and overlay a map of settlement patterns (German, French, Norwegian, Italian, etc. etc.) on the dialect maps. If you shifted through a number of settlement maps through a few hundred years, I wonder which ones would most closely match the existing patterns of speech?

Now Playing: If I Wrote You from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 1:23 PM | Comments (0)

December 31, 2005

A bad reflection

(I’m still mining this recent email exchange.)

There’s more to the problems with the internet than can be solved by replacing the technology. The trouble is that the problems aren’t technical; it’s that we’re trying to create a new mode of communication which eliminates problems we’ve covered with fragile hacks in the non-internet space. We haven’t solved these problems efficiently in real life; why do we think we’ll do better on the internet?

The following paragraphs probably should be subject to normal disclaimers regarding me sounding off on a subject in which I have no formal background, and in which specialists exist who might demolish most of my claims.

Security issues, particularly surrounding fraud (the most popular form of internet crime, barring perhaps extortion and/or the violation of various local blue laws,) are largely issues of identity and trust in the real world, because they’re about being accountable (or avoiding accountability.) Think about the mechanisms we have for proving our identities in the physical world. They’re largely biometric: height, hair color, eye color. Shape of face, fingerprint, retinal scan, dental records. DNA. Fine: we can establish individuals that way. Generally we do it in a very sloppy way: we introduce each other. We use driver’s licenses or passports with photos to “prove” that the name we introduce ourselves with loosely matches the biometric data we possess. Then we deliberately cripple or restrict the effectiveness of these tokens, because they’re government-issued and we don’t really trust the government. Or, we trust other individuals who introduce us to each other to do that introducing accurately.

If I’ve characterized that properly, identity (and accountability) in the physical world is based on trust and very loose pattern matching.

The “loose pattern matching” is a tough thing to do online, largely because the biometric data involved is either unavailable (got a fingerprint-reader to get access to your laptop yet? How about a retinal scanner to buy from Amazon?) or subject to distortion (it should be possible to put up a sock-puppet face on a webcam with existing video software, though it might not be possible yet to generate full-motion on the fly. Maybe with specialized hardware.) So we rely on trust: we generate cryptographically strong digital “signatures” which stand in for the biometric data, and use those to establish our identities.

Now, the mere existence of a digital signature isn’t enough. (It’s enough for encryption, but not enough to establish identity.) No, we need to have someone sign the public keys to verify that they belong to who they say they belong to - PGP created the strange social phenomenon of “key-signing parties” where people show up with others who will verify their identities, or paperwork, and sign each others’ keys, and trust that degrees of separation and chains of trust—Thawte calls it a “web of trust“—will mean that all keys will be trustworthy. Have you ever asked to see the ID of someone who was just introduced to you? That would be the act of a true paranoiac in the offline world, yet we do it all the time online.

In other words, online, we go back to our existing real-life methods, the fuzzy and imperfect ones.

This is a common problem with some phishing and all pharming scams: they take advantage of the server-certificate method of running encrypted websites. People assume that a secure website is a secure website when they see the padlock on their browser, and they don’t think about the identity-confirming aspect of the certificate. It matters that https://www.paypal.com is not https://www.paypal.scams.com. And even that identity function is based on trust.

The point is that the mechanisms we have for identity and accountability in the physical world are fallible, and in translation to the internet they become either unfeasible (biometrics) or so complicated only hardcore crypto-heads or paranoiacs like myself use them (trust). There are a lot of very smart people who have done a lot of involved thinking about trust and how to create it in an online environment; unfortunately, none of them have made it into software my mother can install and understand.

And I think it’s unreasonable to blame problems on the internet when we’ve “solved” them so poorly elsewhere.

Now Playing: Deep End from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

Drip

There’s water dripping from the top of our living-room window frame. I’ve removed the shade, which the water was running over, put towels and pots under the window to catch the water, and phoned the landlord (due here in a few hours.)

I also took the daring step of going out on the roof in front of my office to see if there was an obvious problem with the gutters which would be causing a leak. Answer: no, but maybe I don’t know what to look for (i.e. the problem is non-obvious.)

It’s not a gusher, but I’ve soaked one towel already (it’s in the dryer, getting ready for another shift.) Not a great sign.

Update: 12/30: the weather cleared up, so there’s no new water coming in. The landlord came and was as mystified as we were. The wall above the window is dry, and there’s no obvious damage to the exterior of the house. Supposedly there’s someone coming to check it out next week; in the meantime, we’ve got some 2-mil poly sheeting tacked under the window frame to funnel any future water into a pan on the floor.

Now Playing: Subterranean from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 12:24 PM | Comments (3)

December 27, 2005

Special day (twice)

Today would have been my grandmother’s ninety-ninth birthday, by this morning’s math.

It’s also the third anniversary of the day we brought Iz home from the Dakin. He was a four-month kitten who had only just arrived at the shelter; I doubt he spent more than one night there before we scooped him up. They took him out of the quarantine cage (he hadn’t had his vet exam yet,) and handed him to me, and he purred, at which point we were pretty much sold.

It’s hard to believe it has only been three years (and three apartments, unfortunately;) I can barely remember when he wasn’t buzzing in my ear for breakfast.

He loved the wide windowsills in our Northampton apartment, and while we lived there he spent hours camped out behind the curtains, watching the parking lot. Now, he’s sacked out on the couch as though it’s just like any other day.

Window kitty

Posted by pjm at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)

December 24, 2005

Solutions for future dilemmas

The solution to the gift dilemma turned out to be the gift shop at the Eric Carle museum.

Now Playing: Knights In Shining Karma from Apple Venus Volume 1 by XTC

Posted by pjm at 4:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2005

You can(n't) go back

Yesterday afternoon I went back to my old workplace. I managed to leave a framed poster in my office on my last day in August (oops,) and this was the first time I’d been back in Amherst when I could reasonably expect the office to be open (that is, weekdays.)

It’s a different place, of course; they lost their receptionist this fall, as well, and there are new people in the building. It’s slower to change than many places its size, though, because it’s a good place to work so people don’t generally want to leave. I collected the poster and stood in my successor, N’s, office door for an hour or so, distracting everyone walking by and answering the same questions. Yes, it was a lot of work. Yes, I miss being here (in the sense that I miss being able to shut off the office lights at 5 and leave the work behind.) Yes, school is the right place for me now.

One of the things that was brought home to me was how important it actually was for me to leave. Not that I was doing a bad job, but because I had stopped coming up with good solutions to the existing problems. It was gratifying to talk with N for a while and hear what he had planned for replacing the geriatric office server, among other things, and upgrading the web server I built. (I just deleted the phrase, “my web server.”)

He has some creative solutions happening, with a mix of rebuilt machines and new hardware, doing interesting stuff with a minimum of waste and expense. As I was leaving, I thought it was good that he took over, because he was getting things done where I was stagnating. It’s as though I needed to leave just so they could have someone new in the job.

It’s funny, but I have a way of picking good employers to be from.

Posted by pjm at 4:26 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2005

Gift dilemma

I may have mentioned that I have these nieces.

As you can imagine, this is a big time of year in the Uncleing calendar, though I am given to understand that an even bolder typeface reigns in the Grandparenting calendar. I find myself right now with two University t-shirts with which the girls can trumpet (ahem sorry, can’t help myself) their association with this stellar and exclusive institution of higher learning. (When I am done, four of their relatives will have degrees from this university, tying the number with paper from their father’s alma mater; one of their great-aunts, who counts on both sides, gets the deciding vote.)

Anyway, this is all well and good, but I now have two competing ideas. First, I’m not sure I want to be just a “clothes uncle,” particularly when I was the one who first found what they really want. Second, I am remembering the size of the haul last year, and I’m wondering if they actually remember who gave them what—that is to say, am I worried about nothing?

And yes, I saw the research on Barbie torture.

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (1)

Quality control

Any complaints of perforated wrapping paper should be reported to my assistant.

Posted by pjm at 4:00 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2005

More about women in CS

It looks like my post last week about Maria Klawe’s talk about women in computer science got some attention. In addition to a greater-than-usual comment volume, the post was excerpted in a Computerworld Blogwatch post yesterday, with the kind comment, “A really interesting read—if you click through to just one item today, make it this one.” Given that the bulk of the post came from Dr. Klawe, not myself, I won’t let it go to my head. In light of some of the comments I’ve had, as well as the extended comment posted at Thus Spake Zuska, I think I need to address some of the other issues raised. Since this will probably get long, I’ll continue in an extended entry.

Before I get too far, though,to the hundred or so people visiting for the first time from Computerworld’s IT Blogwatch, welcome! I’d like to say that I’m always as interesting, but this is the personal weblog of a CS graduate student and occasional freelance sportswriter, so it’s not quite as reliable as reading a magazine. Feel free to check out my feeds if you’re interested, though.

Continue reading "More about women in CS"

Posted by pjm at 3:18 PM | Comments (4)

December 19, 2005

Email I just sent to the MBTA

Some names and locations have been obscured in a futile attempt to limit the amount of personal information about me available to anyone who knows how to use a search box.

From: [me]
Subject: MBTA Bus Route 101
Date: December 19, 2005 7:02:54 PM EST
To: lwebster@mbta.com

This afternoon, [A] and I set out for Northeastern University. We live on [a street] in Medford, so we walked down to the bus stop at the end of our street, at [specific location], intending to catch a [route number] bus to the Sullivan Square Orange Line station.

According to mbta.com, that bus route passes [intermediate landmark] at 1:23 PM, and again at 1:53 PM, on its way to Sullivan Square. Not wanting to miss a bus running early, we made a point of getting to the stop at 1:23. There were three others waiting at the stop, so we knew we hadn’t just missed a bus.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. By 1:40, we knew the 1:23 bus just wasn’t coming. By 2:00, we’d pretty much given up on the 1:53 bus as well, and we were cold and miserable standing on a breezy street corner waiting for a bus which never came. We gave up, walked back home, and drove our car to Wellington Station, where we paid to park and caught an Orange Line train.

Now, today wasn’t a particularly cold day, as New England winters go. The sun was even out. I shudder to think what it would be like to wait at that stop on a below-zero day, or one of those wonderful days when it’s around 35 degrees and raining.

I recognize that bus shelters are expensive, and that it’s difficult to keep busses on a schedule. However, if there was some predictability to the busses, at least people could minimize the amount of time they spend waiting out of shelter.

Furthermore, even if the busses were off schedule, if they ran at the scheduled frequency, at least your customers could be assured of not waiting any longer than (in this case) half an hour, at worst. Instead, it appears that the bus which was supposed to be at [intermediate landmark] at 1:23 PM wasn’t running at all.

We will be filing On-Time Service Guarantee reply cards as described in your Customer’s Bill of Rights. But far more than a free fare, we’d rather have bus service we can count on to be there when it’s supposed to.

Thank you for your concern,

[pjm]

Sure, 1:30 in the afternoon isn’t exactly rush hour. But you can’t just not run a bus because there aren’t going to be enough people to make it worth it—you said it would be there, and if there’s one person out there counting on that bus showing up, it should show up. That’s what it means to offer a service.

Update, 20 December: We got an apology from the T:

“I apologize about the poor service. There is no excuse for this. An operator called in sick and we were unable to cover the work. The normal follower on that trip was late as a result of the overflow of passengers. We currently have 27 new hires in training and expect to see service improve as a result. I encourage you to seek reimbursement as it is your right and I hope you continue to ride with us in the future. I think you will see a improvement in service. Again, I apologize for the poor service and I hope to serve you better going forward.”

That’s nice of them.

Now Playing: Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood) from Hard Candy by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2005

I have become an undergraduate

My nieces are in their sleeping bags on my bed, because it has the door that closes and they don’t like the idea of having Iz wake them up at 5 AM expecting breakfast.

My brother is, I think, on the couch, but I can’t tell if I’m hearing him playing with the cat or if it’s the springs in the sofa-bed squeaking.

I am upstairs in my office, having decided this morning that I will be better able to code the Algorithms programming project in Java rather than C. (So far, I am right: it still doesn’t do anything useful, but at least I have some feedback from Eclipse that what I have written so far should compile.) If I sleep, it will be in the guest room, which adjoins the office.

I am promised that the girls are capable of eating their weight in pancakes, and I intend to test this empirically in a few hours.

Despite the past nine years of conditioning myself to wake up before 8:30 or so, I have reverted to my undergraduate schedule, which was, roughly:

  • Work (for some approximations of “work”) until approximately 1 AM.
  • Sleep until the last possible moment allowing a shower and arrival at the dining hall before breakfast closed. This time varied by dorm, but in my senior year, when I lived next door, it was almost 9 AM.

I could make it to work in Pennsylvania if I was out of bed by 8 and ran at lunch, but once I moved back to Amherst I had to be up around 6 every morning in order to run before work. I got on a 6-to-10 schedule which worked pretty well for me. Until now.

The problem is, I have conditioned A. to running in the morning, and Iz to being fed at 6 AM (or, as he prefers to interpret it, “half an hour before dawn cracks.”) Therefore, it’s a bit harder to work like an undergrad than it used to be.

However, I seem to do my best work between 11 PM and 1 AM.

Now Playing: The Wee Hours Review from by Roman Candle

Posted by pjm at 12:59 AM | Comments (1)

November 30, 2005

Watching users

I’ve written a few web apps in the last few years, but never have I actually been able to watch users interact with it like I can with the Wish List, especially since I added the RSS feeds. Even before that, though, the principal users have been family, so nobody has been afraid to tell me when something doesn’t work the way they expected.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the site has allowed lists to become more fluid; I can watch how they grow and contract. I’ve spotted several different use patterns, both in making lists and buying from them, and in some cases the differences run in families. For example, I tend to create really long lists, like a restaurant menu, figuring everyone can find something that fits them, but I’ve seen others who create shorter lists that are almost entirely consumed by their family. And there’s a small minority who sign up to read others’ lists, but don’t add anything to their own. (Sometimes, “their” lists become clearinghouses of gift ideas other people had for them, so it’s not worth requiring that people put stuff on their lists.)

There are plenty of visual tune-ups it needs; aside from a slightly glossier style, there are some places where I should be using color and typography (to distinguish, for example, when someone added an item to their own list, and when someone else added it.) Also, I’m beginning to realize that there needs to be a capacity to add a series of notes to items, in essence making each list item a topic with theoretically unlimited comments. (I’ve already seen some people working around this missing feature.)

A link I saw on del.icio.us recently suggested there are plenty of people looking for more in their wish lists than Amazon offers. Perhaps after this Christmas is over, I should work out a hit list of features and roll this out as a more public application.

Now Playing: Directing Traffik from Life by Inspiral Carpets

Posted by pjm at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2005

Feeds and spoilers

I added web feeds to the Wish List this afternoon, which was a relatively simple operation thanks to previous experience and the simple tutorial which led me through my first feeds.

(Brief digression: Why not an Atom feed? Because all the pages which proposed to show me how started with something like, “First, look at the specification…” and I’m not at all interested in reading the spec: I just want to write a feed template. Danny Sullivan’s article just shows you how, and it just works.)

My learning step, this time, was adding the feed auto-discovery links to the heads of each page. I figure that many of the people using this are pretty low on the geek scale, and are most likely to use feeds if they’re spoon-fed via Safari or Firefox. So I made sure the code was there to pop up the relevant feed links.

I have code in the existing list display pages to control what gets shown to the owner of the list. If you’re looking at your own list (that is, you’re logged in, and looking at the list associated with the user you’re logged in as,) you don’t see status notes other people have left about items on your list, nor do you see items other people have put on your list. It’s part of the original idea behind this: it’s about preserving surprises if you want to, in a way most web-based wish lists don’t.

For various reasons not entirely unrelated to this post, I can’t require logins for the feeds. Since I can’t tell who is requesting the feed for a list, I can’t present the list differently for owners and non-owners. In other words, if you check the feed for your own list, it’s entirely likely to be a spoiler.

I decided this was a necessary risk. The value of having web feeds lies in providing current information, and gutting the feed content would be counterproductive. Instead, I’ve just not included the feed link or auto-discovery code for the owner of a list. They could still figure out the feed URL and subscribe, but it’s not happening by accident. And in my rambling introduction to the feature on the front page, I’ve included the caution: spoilers ahead.

Now Playing: Dear John from Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 4:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2005

Cooking with gas

I started making fudge for the holidays sometime in high school. The first few batches at Thanksgiving and Christmas were well received, and I reached a point where I was making three or four batches for distribution each Christmas. I acquired a big pot (also used for the occasional batch of chili) and a candy thermometer (like this one ,) a wonderfully industrial piece of kitchenware with a brushed-metal dial and red needle. I experimented with white chocolate (well received, but softer than the regular stuff) and peppermint (not bad, but the hot fudge tended to boil off the peppermint extract without taking much flavor from it.)

Demand tapered off recently, and last year I think I only made one batch at Christmas and skipped Thanksgiving. Since this year’s Thanksgiving is being hosted by rookies, I figured once I had the requested rolls baked (yes, I made rolls,) I’d pitch in a batch of fudge. I’ll bring part of it up to the town where much of the rest of my family is eating, at the suggestion of one of my cat-sitters.

Making fudge is relatively simple (if you’ve got one of the red-plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks, and it has the “Remarkable Fudge” recipe, that’s what I use.) It’s fascinating to watch, though. You start with evaporated milk, butter, and all the sugar you can find in a big saucepan (the biggest you own,) and you heat it for a good long time. The first few times, I would just stir tediously until the candy thermometer showed the right temperature, then dump in the chocolate, vanilla, and marshmallow, stir and pour. After I’d watched more carefully, though, I could see the syrup go through at least two intermediate state changes on the way to the final state. Getting it to that final state is important, too; if it’s not cooked hot enough, it won’t set up properly in the pan, and the result will be gooier than fudge should really be.

I’ll find out for certain about this batch tomorrow, but based on licking off the stirring spoon, I think it’s a winner.

Now Playing: Released from Winter Pays for Summer by Glen Phillips

Posted by pjm at 9:25 PM | Comments (2)

November 11, 2005

It's November, which means...

…that all your annoying ahead-of-the-game relatives are asking you what you want for Christmas. Or, alternately, you’re coming up with all these great ideas which you will forget by the time they ask you.

Last year, I hacked up a quick PHP web app which facilitates sharing of lists among families. It’s a bit rough, but eliminates several of what I consider shortcomings of wish lists like Amazon’s. I’ve done a little bit of revision recently, and have plans for a few more features, but it works and my family, for one, is using it again this year.

If you think your family might be interested (and, I admit, it’s not for everyone,) drop me a line and I’ll send the address.

Posted by pjm at 3:52 PM | Comments (1)

Black cats

I read recently that black cats are genetically tabbies: black, with black stripes.

Posted by pjm at 3:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2005

Public service announcement

I have the first sentences (or at least the main ideas) of a few posts in ecto now, but not the time to follow up on the ideas. I’m having too much fun implementing drag and drop by midnight. Whee!

And figuring out how to cover for yesterday’s gaffe, when I confidently assured my Comp 11 students, in a study session, that they wouldn’t have to know how to create a .o file for the exam. Then I read the lab section of the exam. Oops. If any of you are reading, the command is g++ -c sourcefile.cpp.

Now, I wonder how hard it would be to get goggles before making it to the pool at 10:30 tomorrow, considering that the swim shop appears to open at 10 and is in North Reading?

Now Playing: Joey from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 7:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2005

I couldn't make this up

Some windows near my “office” on campus face out on the pavement beside the building. Today I noticed this sign in one of them:

NO PARKING
(This is not an official sign,
but instead represents the voice of experience.)

Now Playing: September from Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Posted by pjm at 7:52 PM | Comments (1)

Which exit, again?

I think it important that anyone who knows me be reading the current Get Fuzzy story arc.

Get Fuzzy for Monday, 10/31/05

Posted by pjm at 6:57 AM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2005

Corporate weasels

Friday, I bought tickets to see Josh Ritter (again!) at the Somerville Theater tomorrow night. For several reasons having to do with my not having bought the tickets sooner (I’ve known he was coming for a month—what was I waiting for?) I bought them through Ticketmaster instead of paying cash at the box office down in Davis Square. (I simply had no remaining time to get to Davis.)

I’m not the first person to complain about Ticketmaster; it should come as no surprise to anyone that I’ve decided they’re weasels. Here’s why:

  1. The tickets were listed at price $x at the beginning of the process. Pricey for a night’s entertainment, but I knew it would be worth it and was willing to pay.
  2. Then, upon clicking through, there was a small “facilities fee” and a whopping “handling fee” added, both per-ticket. The handling fee, despite the fact that I selected “Will-Call” and Ticketmaster will never touch the ticket.
  3. With the fees, the price of the tickets went up nearly 50%.
  4. I wouldn’t have been mad if the fees had been included in the price of the tickets; in fact, I might have considered the tickets expensive but worth it, and bought them without feeling cheated. Instead, they were tacked on above what I had been told was “the price.” It wasn’t the total that angered me, but the way it was presented, something which should be easy to fix.
  5. The fees can’t be included in “the price” because then the fee revenue would be included in the concert revenue shared with the artist.

In other words, Ticketmaster squeezes, beyond what the market wishes to bear, both parties which contribute to concerts being something worth attending, while adding nothing commensurate to their revenue themselves. They anger their customers and screw the performer. See? Weasels. I don’t understand how that kind of business model is allowed to stand without being undercut by competition.

Now Playing: Thin Blue Flame from The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2005

Half a bubble off plumb

There’s a lot to be said for the “character” of our apartment. It’s a good renovation of a clearly old building, so while walls and such are solid and up to code, there are some odd angles. Bookshelves, for example, sometimes run downhill. Izzy’s ball toys will sometimes take an erratic break and roll back towards him after he swats them.

The less amusing parts are when you find that it’s nearly impossible to make a floor lamp stand straight. Maybe, instead of picture hangers on the walls, we need eye-bolts, where we can attach stays.

Now Playing: We Learned The Sea from The Green World by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 8:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 5, 2005

Bashful buyer syndrome

We have this box spring which wouldn’t go up the stairs to the third floor. (The matching mattress is much more flexible.) There’s no place for it on the second floor, and Iz will have it destroyed soon (dandy scratching post, it is,) so it needs to go.

After striking out utterly on Freecycle (the local list is about a third the size of the busy Amherst community, and almost useless,) I listed it on Craigslist for $10. I thought it was unlikely that I’d have much luck selling what I’d tried to give away, but Craigslist has a much larger audience.

We got one response the day I listed it (Saturday.) I dutifully told the potential buyer where we were located, and that I was available Sunday, less so on Monday, more so on Tuesday. No response. On Monday, finally, another contact: maybe Tuesday? Sure, I said, here’s when I can be home, let me know when you’re likely to come by. Once again, silence at the other end of the line.

This afternoon (Wednesday,) improbably, I got another query. I wrote back to say, yes, I’ve had someone inquire, but so far they’ve been a no-show, so come on by, and I listed some times I could be available. Be there tomorrow (Thursday) they say.

You can see where this is going, right?

The first potential buyer wrote back within an hour, asking if they could come by to pick up the box spring on Thursday.

I think the right thing to do is tell them, sorry, I didn’t hear from you for two days, so I sold the box spring to someone who actually showed up. But I have this suspicion, based on some frustrations I had getting Freecycle people in Amherst to commit to showing up and taking the stuff instead of just sending email, that the second buyer will back out as well, and we’ll wind up with a big, ugly scratching post.

Now Playing: Leave from New Adventures In Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (2)

September 9, 2005

My cat, the hacker

Some months ago, while pointing out that Iz was overweight, a vet suggested we buy him a particular kind of toy. One puts dry food inside the toy, and it comes out bit by bit as the toy rolls around. The idea, I think, was to give Iz a little bit of exercise with his dinner, since he’s already on a pretty restricted diet. (When you consider how much a cat sleeps, it’s a wonder he sees the need to eat at all.)

We finally found such a toy the other week, and started loading a portion of his dinner into it every night. He took a while to figure out the ball contained food, but once he did, he leapt right over the “toy” function and zoomed right in on the “food” function. He figured out that if, instead of chasing it in hot pursuit from room to room, he just nudged it slowly around the kitchen floor, it would dispense food fairly reliably. So now he paces slowly behind it, like a bloodhound on a faint trail, pausing briefly every few steps to gobble up the kibbles that come out. The exercise value has to be pretty close to nil. In effect, he has hacked the system to get the most food for the least effort.

At least it keeps him from scarfing down his entire dinner in one sitting. And he hasn’t yet solved the optimization problem of getting his breakfast at the earliest possible moment, either.

Now Playing: I Know What I’m Here For from Getting Away With It…Live (Disc 1) by James

Posted by pjm at 6:25 PM | Comments (3)

August 22, 2005

Excuses, excuses

I’m still here. But nothing’s really happening worth sharing. I’m doing things, and thinking things, but none of it’s particularly interesting, and the main theme seems to be, “I thought I would be finished with this three days ago! Why am I not yet done?”

My “two week vacation” where I thought I’d clear some back-log has pretty much evaporated.

Posted by pjm at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2005

Broken glass

There’s some quirkiness in the timing. A year ago today, I posted an article detailing the steps I was starting to take to enable my users and my company to handle emergencies without me. My primary motivation, though I didn’t mention it at the time, was to provide some continuity for my successor (Hi, N!) since I knew I wasn’t going to be there much longer than a year from then. But I also noted, half-whimsically, that maybe I’d get hit by a bus or something.

This morning, I got an email from a former co-worker with a subject line bearing the name of one of my former roommates from Pennsylvania. (I won’t go into more detail, because more of you than you’d expect would recognize the names of both the roommate and the co-worker.) Seems my former roommate had a bad headache on his run this morning. His wife took him to the hospital, where they determined he’d had a brain aneurysm burst. He’s described as “lucid,” but he’s going for surgery tomorrow.

The co-worker notes that this former roommate lives two blocks from one of the local hospitals; however, later today he was supposed to be driving, alone, to a meeting in central PA. He was also planning on running Hood to Coast next week; he could’ve been running through the woods alone when this happened.

Somehow I feel like we’re too young for this sort of thing to be happening. And I wonder how up to date my information is.

Posted by pjm at 9:01 PM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2005

Not quite "Hello, World!"

Hello, Medford.

Posted by pjm at 9:14 PM | Comments (1)

August 9, 2005

More

I have talked more at work in the last two days than I usually do in two weeks.

It would take more than this week to do a complete brain dump from me to my new successor.

I am much more appreciative of how my familiarity with my tools (and reuse of prior work, and time spent working on infrastructure) makes me able to do more in less time. It will take more time for him to get there. But he has taught me things already.

I have more to do than I have time to get it done, but that’s status quo for those moving in under a week, isn’t it?

Posted by pjm at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 7, 2005

Life in the land of boxes

We have seven days to M-day, and I’d say we’ve probably got two thirds of the apartment packed. The remaining third fits in a number of small classes:

  • Things with alternative destinations. This includes subclasses like items I have listed on Freecycle but haven’t found homes for yet, books going to Reader to Reader, and a small set of books which will find their way to the shelves of the Russian House, where I lived during the ‘93-‘94 school year.

  • Furniture which won’t be broken down until right before the move, or will be moved intact.

  • The kitchen.

  • Things we need between now and move day, and

  • Odds and ends which haven’t fit easily into boxes packed so far. These will probably be packed in a muddle at the very end.

This is a good state to be in, because there’s another work week and a some-travel weekend between us and the move. We won’t have much last-minute time, and I now feel more comfortable about being able to do what needs doing in the time available. On the other hand, the place is a disaster area. I can’t believe we’ll have it clean and bare in just over a week. Izzy is always edgy, but today he seems more agitated than usual, poor little guy.

I don’t know if I’ve said it already, but I loathe moving. My idea of a good move is leaving my (intact) apartment on Friday, and returning to a different (intact) apartment on Monday. I am telling myself the things that I tell myself about all approaching deadlines: namely, no matter what happens, after that date, it’s over. When the movers are done, it’s over. This time next month, no more moving, for at least two years if all goes well. So I just keep working that long, and I’m fine.

Posted by pjm at 9:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 5, 2005

More debris

I cleared the last folder in my file cabinet tonight, the one optimistically labeled “Miscellaneous.” Lots of tickets to long-ago concerts and soccer games (Metrostars vs. Revolution! The Hershey Wildcats!) and programs from (and invitations to) various weddings.

I laughed several times when flipping through the sub-folder of stuff formerly located in the cubicle of my previous job; I kept a lot of goofy stuff there. My personal Dilbert greatest-hits stash. Photocopies of some surreal eighties-era running shoe ads (including Khrushchev banging his shoe on the U.N. lectern, with “These shoes hurt!” in Russian as the head.)

On the other side, I found my draft card. I appear to have passed “draft age.” I wonder if I should update my address, though.

Now Playing: 99% from Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Posted by pjm at 9:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 1, 2005

Snapshots

There’s no way I’ll get all the mental posts from the weekend done. So, bullet points. I will expand if someone thinks any of these are that interesting, but somehow I doubt it.

  • I figured, based on map-site estimates, that we’d get to Montreal around midnight if we hit all our exchanges. But first, I got held up on 91 in Greenfield (before I even got out of MA!) and then beat my brother to West Lebanon by nearly an hour. We wound up bound for Burlington right around 8, and we still made it to the hotel by 11:30. Apparently the map sites budget too much time for crossing the border.

  • I don’t think I fully appreciated the degree to which Montreal is a francophone city. I snapped back into my travel mode where I don’t really expect people to understand me when I talk to them.

  • The swimming World Championships are much smaller than track. It’s clearly a big deal, but I’ve seen high school basketball games with more seating (and higher attendance). I realized that one advantage to sitting in the press section is that you have heat sheets and results handed to you during the meet. I missed that, a little. On the other hand, since the swimmers touch every 50m and stay in lanes, they’re able to split out every race and track progress in very fine detail, which is nearly impossible on the track (just ask anyone who’s tried to split multiple athletes in a 10,000m.)

  • We had lunch with the pseudonymous wolf angel, at a hip little place called Kilo. Needless to say, there will be no pictures posted, since the cats did not attend. We carped about everyone else’s concept of what IT departments are for. She delivered us to the top of Mt. Royal, where we gawked at the scenery before hoofing it back down to the Metro.

  • Despite the size of the crowd, when the Canadian woman was swimming for second in the women’s 800m free, it was loud.

  • On the drive back to the border, we passed an (ahem) exotic dancing establishment shrouded in smoke from a neighboring barbeque. We raced for the obvious joke… “That place is smokin’!”

  • The locals looking for a bar at the convenience store in Barre—having apparently closed down the Applebee’s next door—definitely had the potential to get me in trouble by laughing at them. I managed to contain myself.

  • After midnight, you can drive from West Leb to Amherst in an hour and a half, assuming you don’t meet any state troopers. (Vermounties?) Total travel time from Montreal to Amherst, including a few stops: somewhat less than 5:30. So, not as close as New York and Boston, but somewhat closer than Philadelphia.

Now Playing: Wildflowers from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Posted by pjm at 2:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2005

The free yard sale (second installment)

I’ve mentioned before that we’re giving away a lot of stuff before this move. It’s not any kind of austerity move (excepting perhaps on my bookshelves, which could use some austerity,) but rather a recognition of how much stuff we’ve accumulated that we no longer use; baggage which no longer carries its weight. We don’t have a venue for a proper yard sale, nor the inventory, so it’s been happening in pieces. When A had some runners over to go through her give-away stuff, I called it her “free tag sale.” Tonight is my installment.

I’ve been trimming small stuff on eBay and Amazon for a while, but the time is getting short (seventeen days until the movers come,) so I’m resigning myself to carrying some of what I didn’t get listed and sold in time, and moving on to the big items.

In the last week I’ve made a big push to offer largish items on Freecycle. One item went out on Monday. For some reason, four different items had pick-up arranged for tonight, so I expect the evening to be punctuated regularly by answering the doorbell and carrying things out.

I have to keep reminding myself that we will still end up moving things we don’t need, and that no matter how much we shed, there will still be quite a lot to haul.

Now Playing: Your Skies Are Mine from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2005

CRUD

I am spending today, and probably large sections of the next week, whipping together a site to support a book which is going to the printers “any week now.” It’s a final exam, of sorts; a chance to take the content management system I’ve shepherded through two previous sites and write a sharper, cleaner version using what I learned from those earlier ones.

Content management is a very basic level of database work, with just a few relationships and a lot of CRUD: the database acronym for Create, Read, Update, Delete.

If only things were so simple outside the database. There’s a lot of Update and Delete going on in non-work, but none of the operations are simple, and there seem to be a lot of them going on at once.

Now Playing: Television by Robyn Hitchcock

Posted by pjm at 2:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

Tonight, I plan on sleeping

(I’d considered writing this since I saw yesterday’s newspaper, but I’m following through because I threatened to elsewhere.)

For pity’s sake, people. It’s only a book. It won’t disappear if you don’t have your copy at midnight (or, for that matter, first thing Saturday.) I honestly can’t imagine a book I wanted to read so much that I couldn’t wait a few hours. I can imagine losing sleep over a book I was already reading, but not one I hadn’t even started.

I think we’ve passed the level of, “It’s an entertaining read,” and have entered the level of hype.

(This post composed while waiting for Ruby and associated dependencies to install on my Mac…)

Now Playing: Fly Home from Sometime Anywhere by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:21 PM | Comments (3)

July 13, 2005

Unnecessary kindness

Clearly I didn’t get my point across terribly well in the last post. I’m not close to any financial edges. I know everyone means well, but the point of the post was to explain some small changes in the site, not to indicate any kind of privation.

Perhaps some background is in order. I am a flinty old New Englander, and one of the characteristics of that type (aside from general reticence, dry humor, and impatience with incompetence,) is strong independence, which translates into an allergy to debt. I’ve held paying full-time jobs, often with extra work on the side, since finishing college the first time. In that time I paid off a car and my college debt, both significantly ahead of schedule. With the debts paid off, I’ve been plowing money into savings. Between that good support from the University, I expect I will finish a Masters without debt. If I keep my belt tight and don’t waste any time, I might finish a Ph.D. without debt, but that’s a bridge I don’t even know if I’ll want to cross.

I’m not yet in a position where I need to cut things out. However, I have considered what to cut, should it become necessary. Yes, I can find a way to cheaper hosting; I’m already discussing an alternative back-channel. Yes, it may be possible that I may be able to host on University servers, or co-locate a cheap box of my own in their data center. I don’t know that, so I proceed with what I do know. Yes, I’ve considered shedding the car; however, that’s beyond the scope of this line-item. Yes, Julia, I’ll come for dinner, but because I enjoy your (plural) company, not because I can’t afford groceries.

This is a tiny little thing. I spent more money flying to California for a track meet last month than I do on this site. I earned more writing three stories in one day than I spend on this site. The difference is that the track meets pay for themselves, at the end of the year.

I don’t talk about things much, sometimes big things. This can lead to people interpreting small signals as signs of big icebergs. This one isn’t. I do appreciate your concern, though.

Now Playing: Wild Flowers from Gold by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 8:12 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2005

Good excuse

The other week, I was notified that I had to turn up for jury duty in Northampton sometime in September.

This would be a problem considering that I will be living in Medford by then. I checked, and discovered that I’m ineligible: shortly before I started this weblog, I spent a few hours suffering in a jury waiting room in Hadley. That’s enough for the state until 2007. I filled out the card, and today got the notice that I was not required to report.

There was a pretty good series on jury reform on NPR last month. They cited some good things to change: requiring jurors to show up even when they won’t be empaneled, for example. But thinking about that Hadley waiting room, I think they missed something. The waiting would be about 30 times more pleasant if the TV was turned off (or if there was a place where it could be escaped.) I also think the jury would be two or three times more likely to come to an intelligent, reasoned verdict if they hadn’t been exposed to network television for a number of hours before the trial.

Now Playing: Lay It Down Clown from Tim by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

July 9, 2005

Looking forward

This morning we (re)visited the apartment which will be ours starting in mid-August. We spent a bit more than a half an hour scrawling rough floor plans, snapping photos and taking measurements. The idea is that we compare the vital figures with the dimensions of existing large objects (furniture) and think about where it all goes, what we have that we can get rid of, and what we don’t have that we need.

I’ve never been so deliberate about moving before; I’ve just thrown all my stuff in the new place and pushed it around until it appeared to fit. (By the same token, I’ve seldom bought furniture for a space before; I’ve picked up bits and pieces to fill needs as they came along.) I hope it actually works. I am glad we had the opportunity to see our landlord again; I definitely left with a positive feeling about him and the building, and looking forward to being there in the fall.

I also think having a sharper image of the space in our minds has already helped us grasp the reality of what we have to do. Once we returned to our current apartment, we set out on a list of chores. I purged my bookshelf again, this time clearing 10% to 15% of the shelf space and filling a box which will go to Reader to Reader early next week. If anyone wants some good Russian literature, please let me know; I have some reasonably good stuff going, and some of it is even in English translation. Also, I’d love to find a home for seven or eight track statistics books which I’ll probably have to recycle otherwise.

A. is producing bag after bag of clothes for distribution elsewhere (not all of hers will go to the SA, as mine do.) Yet it seems like for all we shed, there’s still just as much sticking around.

Posted by pjm at 11:11 PM | Comments (3)

July 5, 2005

The first catch

In light of Iz’s demonstrated skill at bat-hunting, I thought I’d tell the story of his first hunt: the time he caught a mouse in our previous apartment. If you’re reading by a feed, click through to the extended entry where the story is.

Continue reading "The first catch"

Posted by pjm at 9:52 PM | Comments (4)

July 1, 2005

Friday cat blogging, blood sport edition

I woke up last night when the whir of the box fan was joined by a high chittering noise. Again. I could hear Iz in hot pursuit, so this time I had a pretty good idea what was going on. As I closed the bedroom door, I picked up an empty recycling bin as a potential holding pen.

It took a few passes to locate Iz. Our apartment has a staircase down to the second floor, ending at a door about an inch and a half from the edge of the last step. Iz loses toys into the gap between the door and the stair-tread all the time. Following the curious mews, I found him down there, fishing in the gap. Cautiously, I opened the door, and found a bat, wings furled, huddled in the bottom corner of the door-frame. Mark up number two for the Iz; he might not have caught this one, but he certainly cornered it. (Continued…)

Continue reading "Friday cat blogging, blood sport edition"

Posted by pjm at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)

I thought things like this didn't happen twice

Izzy caught another bat. Fortunately (?), I was able to enforce catch-and-release. Again.

Back to sleep, now.

Posted by pjm at 4:26 AM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2005

Paradox

(It happens that I did see two doctors this morning, but that’s not the point of this.)

It seems like the availability of things I consider worth writing about seldom coincides with the ability (time, connectivity, free hands) to write about them.

Now Playing: Lustre from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:34 PM | Comments (1)

June 27, 2005

Back to the swamp

It has been a fever-dream of a day, and I’m in a sort of half-awake fugue state unable to really appreciate how weird it has been.

After a series of outbound flights on Wednesday with no successful standby passengers, we weren’t turned away from either of our standby flights today.

We just looked up the guy who shared our row on the first flight and figured out that he’s going to Helsinki for the World Championships: second place in the 400m hurdles. What was he doing flying coach?

Posted by pjm at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

An impossible topic

You know, I really can’t think of anything interesting to write about air travel and its capacity to beat you down and make you tolerate inconvenience and outright incompetence in ways you never would in the rest of your life. Undoubtedly you’ve heard about it or experienced it yourself, so just mentally paste that in here. I’d love to include the name of the airline, but the problem with major airlines is that bad PR seems to just roll off their backs; everyone’s been shafted by one of them, some of us by more than one, and they’re still in business. Except the bankrupt ones, and even that is more likely their fault than ours. So: damn them all, and we’ll get on with things. Like leeching bandwidth from their presidents’ club network. I briefly thought about seeing if I could get their IP blacklisted in a few different places, but then I grew up a little.

Undoubtedly they would have treated us better had they known that I now know the identity of the laconic Stag. Or, maybe they would have treated us worse (not sure how that would’ve been possible, but let’s not think about it) had they known I talked her ear off, and didn’t even ask for a sneak preview of Prague stories.

Meanwhile, I have work to do, and at least a power outlet.

Posted by pjm at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

Self-revelation

This is why I bore the snot out of people: they aren’t interested in how I know something. (See, you just pipe the output from this command through grep, then into a pager…) They’re just interested in what I know.

For me, the how is the more interesting part.

Posted by pjm at 1:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2005

Realized apprehension

Apparently one can claim “wireless internet” in a hotel listing on the web without actually having a functioning wireless network. I’m sipping a weak signal from the Quizno’s down the street.

Posted by pjm at 12:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 21, 2005

An open letter to an organization in my field

I am getting more and more frustrated by old-media companies which refuse to stretch their minds to figure out what’s going on in media today. (Right up front, I’m not talking about my employers. It’s my job to “get it” for them, and they’ve been receptive to every suggestion I’ve had.) Specifically, personal publishing (i.e. blogging,) web feeds, and the separation of content from presentation.

(More in the extended entry…)

Continue reading "An open letter to an organization in my field"

Posted by pjm at 3:25 PM | Comments (3)

June 20, 2005

I like it here

This weekend has been a spectacular time to be in the Pioneer Valley. We’ve had neither the stifling humidity of two weeks ago nor the curiously prolonged cold bleakness of May, but a nice, breezy, sunny, weekend.

Ten years ago, I spent my last pre-graduation summer here, and discovered more of the area than I ever had before, running between Mt. Toby and the Notch and swimming for the first time in Puffer’s Pond. I knew then that summer is the best time to be here. Now, I’m rediscovering my larger back yard on the way to leaving it once again.

A. and I went up to North Leverett yesterday to run on a section of the M-M Trail (more popularly known as “The M&M Trail”) which I had discovered while caching on Brushy Mountain last summer. The trail section has a Quabbin-like feeling, because for a while it runs in the tracks of a centuries-old road between field-cleared stone walls. We ran out to where Jonathan Glazier’s pre-Revolutionary homestead is marked by a faded sign and a cellar hole in woods miles from modern civilization. Most of North Leverett was cleared for farming in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but as the Midwest opened, many of the farmers headed west, and Brushy Mountain, like almost all of the less-traveled sections of New England, reforested. The result is achingly old in a way the carefully preserved ruins of Europe will never be.

At the end of the run, we toured the Rattlesnake Gutter, a small but dramatic gorge which holds one of Massachusetts’ last stands of old-growth forest; it’s simply too rugged to log.

Rattlesnake Gutter and Brushy Mountain topo map

This morning, I rode to work by a slightly different route, and took pictures of the waterfall over the dam that makes Puffer’s Pond, and a fog bank over the river. The river is full, now, with chilly rain water spilling out of the ponds in Vermont and New Hampshire, and it cools the air above it until the humidity condenses into fog.

Puffer's Pond dam

As my loose shirt rippled in the breeze of my own passing, I watched the outlines of my shadow shifting and blurring.

It’s not perfect here. I miss the ocean, and I am not close to my own roots. But when we visited the Eric Carle museum yesterday with my nieces, at the base of the Holyoke range, I wanted to point to the sun on the mountains and say to my brother, “See why I like it here?”

Now Playing: The Hideout from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2005

Destination

For once, my family, or some fraction of it, is coming to visit me. My brother is bringing my favorite nieces to visit. I have hopes of establishing “Uncle pjm’s” as an exciting adventure destination, even if it isn’t here. (When we move, I can take them to the aquarium.)

I am interested in seeing how Iz reacts.

I was walking through the grocery store aisles, filling a basket with “safety food” like PB&J, and thinking about toddler smiles. I think I was probably wearing an expression wholly inappropriate for grocery shopping.

Posted by pjm at 9:16 PM | Comments (1)

More on smaller bites

When I see something to be done, and I think I can do it well (or do it at all, in some cases,) it’s hard for me not to take it on.

This tends to get me in trouble.

Now Playing: Away from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 4:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2005

Top model

Iz continues to be an internet star. (Scroll down.) This is the second time that photo has been picked up somewhere, so, like I did with the present-wrapping photo, I added a copyright line with this domain name and compressed it a chunk so it’s bandwidth-lite.

We’ve also had a phone message that one of his photo contest shots was a winner! The message didn’t explain which photo won, or what it won, but we’re going over to the Dakin tonight to pick up the prize. Hopefully we’ll leave without any of the little heartbreakers they keep in the front office; the apartment is small enough with one cat. (But if anyone else is in the market for a kitten, I know a source.)

Update: The third photo here (which I call the “running for office shot”) took second place! Iz is now (evening) blissfully stoned on the catnip in the prize bag.

Now Playing: Sparklegirl from Go! by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

June 9, 2005

Pawsfest '05

Longtime readers will remember that one of my roommates was the model for an award-winning photograph last year.

This year’s winners will be announced Saturday, unfortunately while we’re in New York. We’ve entered five photos: the one I posted last March, these two (the second and third ones, thanks,) and the two below in the extended entry. A. took all but the first one. When I was having them printed, they asked what camera we used, and I was able to rattle off the model numbers like I knew what I was talking about. They acted impressed, like I knew what I was talking about.

Continue reading "Pawsfest '05"

Posted by pjm at 9:51 PM | Comments (0)

June 8, 2005

True Believer

I think I’m relatively fortunate in that the two companies I’ve worked for since college have been relatively idealistic companies. My first employer was recognized as a prominent woman-led company and made a few “best places to work” lists while I was there, and was very heavily invested in self-help and “service” publishing, carrying their mission and message to the public. Their magazines accepted no alcohol or tobacco advertising (apparently exceptions are now being made for some alcohol advertising.)

My current employers don’t wear their corporate heart on their sleeve quite so much, but there is a clearly stated focus on doing good work: “The goals continue to be to work with talented and knowledgeable authors, to create books and media that are beautifully designed and produced, and to communicate effectively with each title’s intended audience.”

The first company was in a transition period while I was there, as it began to pass to the third generation of the family and the fierce idealism of the first two generations was moderated. While certain positive parts of the mission were universally embraced (everyone likes a nice place to work, after all,) there was a certain amount of snickering at some of the holdouts from the company’s more fanatical past. They were called, with mixed sympathy and derision, “True Believers.” The term reminded me of Russian history and the Orthodox “Old Believers” who were one of the earliest purges in that litany of national self-abuse. The other implication, in a hipper phrase, was that they “drank the Kool-Aid.”

While I was there, I plowed through a high level of enthusiasm, to a shrugging indifference, to outright cynicism. I don’t think I could’ve been called a True Believer for very long; it was good that I left when I did.

There’s less of a need for True Believers here; we’re more likely to meet our goals simply by hiring the best people we can find, and encouraging to do the best job they can. There’s nothing very ideological about it. But I have been a True Believer, and still am, about some things.

I’ve been a True Believer about my college for years. I don’t see my time there through rose-colored glasses; there were times when I was pretty miserable, and I spent a lot of time stressed, fatigued, sleep-deprived or some combination of the three. I missed a lot of opportunities. But I’ve always felt that the place is/was special somehow, even though I also intellectually recognize that other people have similar feelings about totally different institutions. In a way that’s why I wanted to help with this site; I knew the primary contributor is also a True Believer, and I like that there’s more than one of us.

What’s important is not maintaining ironic detachment, but being able to step back and recognize what it is about the organization that you like, believe in, and want to pour energy into. Maybe it’s not that bad to be a True Believer if that means recognizing the faults—and trying to fix them.

Now Playing: In State from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

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June 7, 2005

Evening

The day always escapes me, and then I dream that tomorrow, I will finally catch it.

Posted by pjm at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 6, 2005

Yet another appearance

We’ve gone worldwide, ladies and gentlemen.

Now Playing: She’s A Star from Whiplash by James

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June 3, 2005

Ticket

Anyone interested in Sunday’s Sox game? A friend of mine has two tickets available. (He is a mutual friend of some of my readers, so some of you have already passed on this offer.)

Actually having met me, while helpful in arranging the meeting, is not required. Residence within reasonable driving distance of Boston is recommended.

Update: He found someone interested in the set, so neither you nor I are going to the game. (I’m moderately disappointed, but I’m more glad he found someone to take both tickets.)

Now Playing: Alex Chilton from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 9:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2005

Limited use of tools

I’m a poor vacation photographer. I took few, if any, photos last weekend (excepting a few hundred of the marathon with A’s camera,) and I took none on April’s trip to Nantucket. I’d plead rain as my excuse for that second one, but Brian was there the same weekend and took plenty.

I take more photos of what’s around me every day. The shots I’ve posted here and on Flickr are either part of my daily round, or day-trips to relatively familiar places.

I think the reason for this is that I’ve stopped taking photos as an attempt to capture a moment, and I’m less ambitious in my attempts to capture views. I find myself trying to take photos which will make good pictures. That’s not going to happen every time I trip the shutter, of course; you have to take a lot of bad pictures to get a good picture. But I’m composing my shots more, and thinking about how the image will look on a screen or printed on a 4×6.

I might take more scenery shots if photos could resolve objects at the same distance my eyes can, I suppose, but I know that the big view photos will never match what I’m seeing. Maybe I need to get better at shooting (and cobbling together) panoramas.

Now Playing: U-Mass from Trompe le Monde by the Pixies

Posted by pjm at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 1, 2005

Current events

If nothing else, 419 scammers are up on their current events. Within a day of the news, I was offered a share of “a large amount of funds” stranded in Russia by the conviction of “Boris Mikhail Khodorkovsky(sic).

Timely as the swindle might be, they aren’t quite pitch-perfect; no Russian male has “Mikhail” as a middle name. (Nor have any of the news reports been using this new “Boris” name of his.) If I was bored, I might write back to this supposed “personal assistant” to ask: “How long have you been misspelling your boss’s name?”

Now Playing: Summerlong from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2005

I should be collecting royalties

At a nickel a page view, I think we could’ve fed Iz for nearly a year now on the proceeds of his modeling career. If there wasn’t so much clutter in the photo, I would be printing birthday cards by now. Anyway, here’s the latest. The range of venues where this photo has shown up can only be accounted for by Google Image Search, I think.

Either that or our cat is becoming an internet icon.

Now Playing: Flower from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2005

What next? or, when the liberal arts education isn't really working out

The alumni magazine from my college is making the rounds. (I’ve heard from others that it has arrived, but for some reason, even though I’m in the same town as the college, it always comes to me late.) Some people comment on the articles, but mostly it’s a ripple of rueful complaints as people read the class notes: “Will you people stop winning awards, earning degrees, getting married and having children?” (This is not unique to my college.)

That, combined with the awareness that the college just dumped a fair number of unemployed “young alumni” on the job market who may or may not have immediate plans or actionable ambitions, began to feel like a call to action. Some of us who graduated in a similar situation, without obviously marketable skills or experience, are sharing what we’ve learned on amerst.com. I led off with my story, which is actually quite reassuring (my best offer at graduation was an internship, but it became a “real job,” and I’ve not had trouble paying the rent,) and today I posted another contribution from a more recent graduate who has held (if I’m counting correctly) three different internships, but no salaried jobs, in two years. I have a third one waiting for me to have time to edit it.

While I suspect the majority wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in the contents of that site, I know there are more than a few who might identify with some of these stories. As I add more, they should all be reachable with this keyword search.

Now Playing: Cowards from Gotta Get Over Greta by The Nields

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May 23, 2005

Food = love?

In the course of the weekend, I had pieces of four different birthday cakes. (The ratio of cakes to celebrants was somewhat greater than 1:1.) The stops were unquestionably pulled out.

  • Grocery store sheet-cake (the four-year-old picked it by the decorations,)
  • Chocolate mousse cake with raspberry glaze, no longer on the menu at the dinner restaurant but produced by request for one of the older celebrants,
  • “Ultimate chocolate” cake at the same restaurant, and
  • Homemade carrot cake made by an aunt the next day.

This glut of frosting (yes, there were leftovers) may explain why I returned to Amherst with an entire otherwise-untouched strawberry rhubarb pie.

Mmm, strawberry rhubarb.

Now Playing: Последний герой from Akusticheskiy Kontsert by Viktor Tsoy

Posted by pjm at 4:29 PM | Comments (1)

Secret message for the blue Toyota westbound on Route 2

The reason your car is getting lousy mileage lately is that you’re riding the brakes. Tip: right foot does gas and brakes. Left foot only works if you have a clutch.

Now Playing: Seconds from War by U2

Posted by pjm at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

Violating the COPPA

Yesterday, I registered my nieces as users for a website without their parents’ explicit permission. I even went on to the “Parents” section to vet their privacy policy, and invented (valid) email addresses for them.

I think the only reason this is safe is that they claim not to be able to type enough to remember login nicknames and passwords (particularly the compound words I chose for passwords.) They claim they need to be read to as well, yet they seem to navigate the site just fine.

Posted by pjm at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2005

Newswatch

If the Press Herald reports on the death or injury of a Groovy Girl in an asleep-at-the-wheel accident on the Maine Turnpike, you can safely unsubscribe from this site’s feed.

Now Playing: Dreamer In My Dreams from Being There (Disc 2) by Wilco

Posted by pjm at 5:03 PM | Comments (0)

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank these people for making it possible for me to buy presents for my nieces without caving in to The Barbie Hegemony. Extra bonus points for selling them through locally-owned toy stores so I can support my own community at the same time.

Now Playing: Back Room Window from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2005

Different priorities

I talked to my nieces on the phone last night, on the occasion of the younger one’s fourth birthday. One of my aunts called us annually on our birthdays, and I want to establish a similar streak with the girls.

The older one is playing organized tee-ball now. If you’re not familiar with tee-ball, it’s essentially baseball, but instead of the ball being pitched, it’s set up on a rubber stand (the tee) in front of the batter, who swings at it until they get a hit. So it’s baseball without the pitcher on defense. (I recall playing in a baseball league where the pitcher pitched to a certain count for each batter, then the tee came out if necessary. Since I couldn’t really focus on the game at that point—or the ball, for that matter—I never really moved on in baseball.)

There’s no sign of little-league syndrome affecting this player yet, though. She described the uniforms in detail, and told me when practices and games were, but offered no comment on the game itself.

Now Playing: Nuclear from Demolition by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2005

How to make your own pizza (without a phone)

One of my housemates in Pennsylvania had worked, at some time in his educational career, in a Pizza Hut. Sometimes when we felt ambitious (and weren’t grilling, something we did quite frequently once he fell off the vegetarian wagon,) we would make pizza. I still do it, now and then, because of all the things I cook for myself it has the best satisfaction-to-work ratio. Tonight I was thinking about how many of the steps I learned from him.

So: the guy’s guide to home-made pizza.

Now Playing: Hockey Skates from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

Continue reading "How to make your own pizza (without a phone)"

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May 15, 2005

"I had a bicycle named Heaven..."

“…and I painted it blue, when I lived next to you.

I had a bicycle named heaven...

This coming week is bike commute week. Like I did last year, I’m hoping to ride in four out of five days. (In particular, I want to hit the breakfasts in Hadley on Thursday and Amherst on Friday.)

I’ve done a human-powered commute at least once every week since early April, so I’m ahead of last year. I’m happy with that. I think in the fall I will be riding even more, especially when I get better at locking and unlocking the bike.

Posted by pjm at 1:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2005

The other end of the move

Yesterday I faxed a signed lease out to the other end of the state. Today I put a security deposit check in the mail. Between those two, I have decided it’s safe to turn off the feed of apartment listings from Craigslist.

This was, without a doubt, the toughest housing search I’ve ever been part of. We looked at ten apartments over three weekends (and had two more appointments cancelled.) We called back two after they’d already rented; in one case, it had rented before we visited, and had there been better communication we might not have bothered.

In the course of the search, our priorities and price ranges shifted, and not always in tandem. Each new apartment not only added a line to the list, but re-shuffled all the others as we saw previous visits in view of the new one.

We’ve ended up with the second one we looked at. It’s close enough to the university that I will be able to walk and bike to work; it’s a long walk to the T, but not impossible. It has a driveway, a guest bedroom, and laundry, and it is larger than our current space.

Most importantly, I think, the cat will like it because it has stairs. I proposed putting all his toys upstairs and seeing how long it took for them all to be batted downstairs.

We’ll move in mid-August, so I will have time to get unpacked before classes begin, not to mention the Great Katahdin Expedition. (As it gets closer, I have escalated to capital letters.)

Now Playing: Call To Love by Crooked Fingers

Posted by pjm at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2005

Missing the alarm

So. It has been busy lately, or so I claim. As an example, I offer yesterday morning.

I was late to bed, probably due to the concert. I have an arrangement with one alarm clock which involves feeding it, then sleeping until the other alarm clock sounds. Except it didn’t, or if it did, I slept through it. I woke up with a jolt about twenty minutes before an appointment to be a pincushion and set some kind of personal record for being showered, dressed, and out of the house. It involved skipping most of my usual routine, including details like eating breakfast or making tea.

In hindsight, the interesting part is how quickly I started doing triage in my head. I knew what I absolutely could not miss, what I should try to get done, and what I could put off until later, and I had my to-do list (A. helped, so some things didn’t get put off as long as they might have otherwise; I was seriously considering going without breakfast entirely, something I hate doing.) I am pleased that I was able to mentally shed some habits and still function.

I made the appointment, after which everything else was just getting there when I could. Then, after work, I finally got to do something before everyone else instead of after being asked: I was the first finder of this cache.

Now Playing: I’m Waiting For The Man by David Bowie

Posted by pjm at 4:42 PM | Comments (0)

Question for midwesterners

When is it correct to say, “MissourEE” and when is it correct to say “MissourAH”?

Now Playing: The Return Of Jimi Hendrix from Dream Harder by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2005

Preview of coming attractions

I’ve been going non-stop (or, at least, it feels like it) since yesterday’s post. Meanwhile, I’ve had a dozen things to write about which, for various reasons, haven’t made it to posting. Until I have time to iron them out, here’s what you have to look forward to dread anticipate:

  • Kathleen Edwards at the Iron Horse
  • Funding the site
  • Apartment searching
  • Missing the alarm
  • Improvising lunch (OK, maybe I’ll combine those two.)

Now Playing: Sooner Or Later from Bang! by World Party

Posted by pjm at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

May 9, 2005

In the middle of the floor

I haven’t posted as much here in the last few weeks as I used to. With any luck, the ten or so people reading the feed aren’t wondering why the heck they haven’t heard more from me, but I’ve noticed, and the number of posts on the front page has dwindled.

I’ve started and abandoned a few posts. I can compare the problem to that of the cat when A. and I are in different rooms. He can’t come and pester one of us without losing sight of the other (who might do something interesting!) so he tries to find a place where he can sit and keep an eye (or at least an ear) on both of us. Our apartment is small enough that this isn’t impossible for him, but he does wind up in some spots that you wouldn’t otherwise pick out as comfortable cat-hanging-out spots.

That’s what I’ve been like. There are plenty of things happening, but some of them are not really my story to tell, some are too big to tell in this format, and some leftover fraction are too muddy in my own mind to attack just yet.

In a conversation with my brother this weekend, he mentioned that he was considering starting a blog, then closed the sentence with one of those laughs you put on to indicate, “Silly idea, huh?” He suggested that he’d read some of relatives and mutual friends, including A’s, but didn’t mention this site. I think that was diplomatic, but who knows. However, maybe he’ll tell some of the stories for me and I can link to him.

The hunt for an apartment near the graduate program continues to be frustrating for everyone concerned, except perhaps for the landlords of beautiful apartments which get leased out from under us. At least we’ve seen some we’d live in, giving us hope that eventually we’ll find The Right One. Meanwhile, the part of my head which thinks about such things feels like a thumb that’s been hit a few times by a hammer—not really painful, but too numb to feel much else.

Now Playing: Mistress from Priest = Aura by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

May 5, 2005

The streaker

When I am standing in front of a half-loaded laundry machine, holding a blue cat collar in my hand, I am thinking of a few things.

I am wondering how I didn’t notice the collar before reaching the laundromat.

I am thinking of the day, a week or so ago, when Iz woke me up for breakfast and didn’t have the collar on. (This state is referred to as “naked,” as in, “Iz! Why are you running around naked?”)

I am wondering if I should drop the collar in with the rest of the wash. The blue is fine, but the white letters might be a bit dingy. (The letters are his name and our phone number, stitched on his collars since he won’t wear a tag; he sees tags as toys which happen to be attached to him.)

I am thinking about his habit of sleeping in my laundry hamper at night, and I am hoping that he pulled open the “safe cat” release on the collar by himself. Maybe he wanted to wear the red collar again. That would be preferable to the collar snagging on the hamper and forcing him to pull it free.

Now Playing: Mercy House from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:58 AM | Comments (2)

May 2, 2005

Around the block

The places that Iz’s birthday picture shows up are getting weirder. This weekend’s appearance is marginally not work-safe. (In fact, Iz is only three, so I wonder if he should be allowed here.)

Now Playing: Landed by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2005

Quote of the day

via A.’s father:

There’s no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.

Oh, how true. Not a reliable one, anyway.

Now Playing: Rock N Roll from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams (…at the Calvin in three hours or so!)

Posted by pjm at 4:40 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2005

Famous cat

The fame of Iz continues to spread. (As usual, you’ll need to scroll down after you follow that link.)

I replaced the original image with a more compressed one to be lighter on my bandwidth, and added a copyright string announcing the site the image came from, so maybe I’ll get a little benefit from posting a silly picture people like to post on message boards. Heck, maybe I should be selling birthday cards. Pity I didn’t clear the table more before I snapped that shot; there’s an identifiable Gazette front page with a photo showing people setting up for UMass graduation.

Now Playing: American Girls from Hard Candy by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2005

Rapper wrapper

At least it looks like someone thinks Iz has a recording career ahead of him.

Look at this. Note the title of the thread, then scroll down until you see something familiar.

I know I should be locking this out, because it’s exceptionally poor manners to link a photo from another site… but it amuses me.

Posted by pjm at 10:06 PM | Comments (3)

April 14, 2005

That taste in your mouth

I don’t remember many details of my morning ritual in high school, whatever those steps were that got me to class more or less on time. I do remember walking into the kitchen in the morning and having the very sight of the microwave start my mouth watering. I made tea by filling a (plastic) travel mug with water, dropping in a bag of tea (usually the grocery-store variety I later learned to call “church tea”) and nuking it for a minute and a half. Garnish with an absurd amount of sugar, and I was primed for the morning.

Any staples in the tea-bag assembly just added to the sense of recklessness. Aspects of my attitude towards tea have shocked enough different people that I’m no longer apologetic about it. Church tea is fine by me, though I’ll drink good stuff if I can get it. (I suppose if I was a coffee drinker, I’d be OK with instant.) I’ll boil the water in a kettle if I have one and the time, but the microwave is fine. Anything that holds the water is OK; I’m not picky about the container and will cheerfully brew tea in a plastic mug. Also, since I learned to drink tea in Poland, of all places, I’ll pass on the milk. Any other sacred tea cows I can gore? Oh, yes, metal in the microwave. Nothing caught on fire or exploded that I recall.

I sometimes snicker at people who pretend to complain about their coffee-caffeine addiction (or, sometimes, their Starbucks addiction.) I know one guy who annually goes cold turkey, and he describes some pretty distinct withdrawl symptoms. But the taste in my mouth when I hadn’t even put the water in the mug yet? That was pure brainstem talking; my tongue was not actually involved.

As a perpetually under-rested undergraduate, I went back and forth between decaf and caffeinated tea. If I drank decaf, I simply slept through class. If I had caffeinated tea, I was drowsy and jittery. Nowadays I compare decaf to methadone.

When I ride in to work, I bring the empty mug and a tea bag and brew the tea on arrival. (I can’t really ride with a mug, and there’s not enough time for me to drink it at home before I leave.) As I gathered all the pieces and got ready to leave this morning, I found myself looking around for the hot mug which wasn’t there, and that taste was in my mouth again. I’ve been hooked. The question is: is it the caffeine, the sugar, or just the taste?

Now Playing: Lullaby In Three/Four from Monday Morning Cold by Erin McKeown

Posted by pjm at 2:42 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2005

Optimists and meteorologists

I think that NOAA can’t really predict the weather for Boston ten days away. I think they just put good forecasts out at the end of the forecast, then adjust them as time passes and the outlook becomes more apparent.

Because if Dave McGillivray was putting in his order for Monday’s weather, this is what it would be:

Monday…Partly cloudy. Highs in the lower 60s. Lows in the lower 40s.

Now Playing: Copied Keys from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 8:09 PM | Comments (1)

April 8, 2005

Short a pint

I should learn to bring in reading, when I make one of my periodic trips to bleed. Since I’m currently between competitive seasons, I checked in at the South Amherst church yesterday and let them take some of the high-test. I will now need to re-train my blood.

It’s a nice little place. I’ve never been in the church other than to donate, but its unique steeple is a landmark for several miles around. It’s not the usual square-tower-spire affair, but a cylindrical cupola with a spire which always made me think “Eastern Orthodox” rather than “New England Congregational.” Yesterday I found that the house next door has geese and llamas in their back yard. They have a nice view out to the east towards the Pelham hills and Belchertown.

While I’m sitting at the recovery table eating cookies and drinking, I listen to the volunteers talking. Last time, they talked about eye surgery; this time, they talked about tours of Ireland. They have their distribution system backwards; instead of having the cookies out to grab on the table, and giving drinks when you ask, they should have the fluids out for the taking, and give you cookies when you ask. I think three cans of lemonade might have done me more good.

I’m still sore. Ow.

Now Playing: Just Like Christopher Columbus from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

April 7, 2005

Professional hitchhiker

Bob told me, not long after he sat down uncomfortably close to me on the park bench, that he was a professional hitchhiker.

Nice to meet you, Bob.

“I’ve got over two million miles,” he confided. “Well, not that I’ve been counting.” Bob had the perpetual tan of someone who has spent a lot of time outdoors, not necessarily by choice. His jeans were torn around the cuffs and didn’t fit him well. The sneakers hiding under the jeans were in worse shape. I looked at his shoes to avoid giving him the impression that this was a two-sided conversation. A. said nothing.

But, Bob, the people you ride with make the choice to pick you up.

He complimented the progress I was making on the box of fried rice from AmChi. A cell phone rang. I hoped, incongruously, that it was his. He asked if it was mine.

Don’t I wish.

I abandoned my dinner plans, folding the top of the box closed again. “Aw, you’re not gonna f#&%in’ leave on me, are you? Everyone does that.”

Maybe it’s because they didn’t invite you to join their dinner, Bob.

I wished him best of luck on the third million miles. And we left. And I felt like the rude one.

Now Playing: Only Teethin’ from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:23 PM | Comments (2)

Catbreak

It’s not good when you wake up at 5:15 AM to screaming.

But let me back up a bit.

Yesterday was a warm day, warm enough that I tipped open the two roof windows in an attempt to cool off the bedroom enough for sleeping. I would’ve opened the side window, but we didn’t have the screens up yet, and we were concerned that Iz might try going after a squirrel—not a good idea from the third floor.

When my eyes popped open at 5:15, what I saw right over my head was a cat butt and tail slipping out the roof window. You can bet I bounced out of bed in a hurry. The particular segment of roof with these windows extends down over the second floor to end in a gutter just one floor up over the garden; I think of it as the third fire escape route. And now Iz was out on the roof, emulating his neighbor. I don’t know if he saw a bird, or another bat, or if he just wanted to explore.

Iz has been an indoor cat as long as we’ve had him, but he has been an adept of the art of the catbreak, so much so that our phone number is embroidered on his collar, Just In Case. Normally, he only manages to escape the apartment as people come in or go out, and is retrieved from the hall or stairwell. For a while we considered putting up a child gate inside the door to give us a buffer zone, but this is a cat we’re talking about; we’d need a six-foot-high gate.

I bolted for the other room, where another roof window would provide access to a different segment of roof; at worst, I figured I could go outside and intercept him at the bottom. But I didn’t make it out of the hall; A. called me back. Apparently Iz decided the outside world was too cold, and hopped right back down on the bed. He purred around my ankles, wondering what the fuss was about.

We pulled the windows closed, then tried to go back to sleep. I wonder if Iz noticed that every time he came up to wheedle for feeding, I had my hand on his collar.

The screens went up before I left for work.

Now Playing: Weakened State from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

April 3, 2005

Sidetracked

Sometimes, I will sit here at the desk with the intent of doing something, maybe writing something here. And the cat will come in to the office, give me a disappointed, perhaps plaintive, look, and meow pitifully. When I look back at him, he’s standing, looking expectantly out the door, waiting for a toy toss or some other form of play. He almost looks like a pointer. I am the Fun One.

Notes for when I’m being less fun: Friday night at the Iron Horse, the Fun Ball CD, my feet and shoes. And maybe TeX.

Now Playing: Perfect Time from Smile by Ride

Posted by pjm at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2005

I enjoy being a...

Luddite.

“Everyone who is going to pay for TV already pays for it,” said Todd Mitchell, an industry analyst at Kaufman Brothers Equity Research. “The only people without it are Luddites and people too old to appreciate it.”

Or am I in the “too old to appreciate it” category?

We do have the most basic of basic cable at our apartment, but I’ve gone years at a time without. In the most-recent subscription, I’ve not yet sat down in front of the TV with the intention of watching anything; I’ve always had something else I would rather be spending my time on. So I suppose that puts me in the “Luddite” category.

Now Playing: Alfred Hitchcock from Abigail by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2005

All politics is local

I voted in the town election this morning. I admit I might not have known there was an election going on, had this one not featured a fairly tense question surrounding the town government. Like the small town where I grew up, Amherst is still run by a board of selectmen and a Town Meeting; unlike that town, Amherst’s town meeting is representative (each ward elects twenty-odd representatives to town meeting, rather than all residents going,) and the meeting is spread over several days, where ours was, I think, two: one for the school budget, and another for everything else.

Part of the difference is Amherst’s tendency, as a town, to try to legislate national policy at a town level. Town Meeting apparently spends an inordinate amount of time debating issues like the USA-PATRIOT act, which simply doesn’t happen in coastal Maine. (I heard a story once about the moderator directing an unnecessarily verbose resident to “sit down and shut up.” The moderator, my father, did not contest the story.)

So, for the second time in two or three years, there’s a proposal on the ballot to amend the town charter. The idea is to abolish Town Meeting and the Select Board in favor of an elected City Council and Mayor, respectively. The first time this was up, I was living in Northampton. It was defeated by something like fourteen votes, so they’re trying again.

As is usual at election times, there were sign-holders at the stop-light intersections in town, but in the past they’ve always staked out opposing corners. This time, signs both for and against the new charter were on each corner, the holders sometimes engaged in heated discussion and sometimes friendly conversation. It’s an issue that’s close enough to the political foundation that the town, normally less than 10% conservative, is not divided along the normal lines.

I’m just happy none of them accosted me as I walked to the polls on my morning errand-run.

Now Playing: Angels Walk from Eventually by Paul Westerberg

Posted by pjm at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2005

We all have our phobias

However, I’m not sure I’ll ever sympathize with the cat as he is locked in mortal combat with a mostly-full two-liter soda bottle. (It’s not quite in his weight class, but close.)

More likely I’ll just laugh.

Posted by pjm at 9:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2005

At a loss

I got a birth announcement today, from a longtime friend, of her second son. I’m happy for her, of course, but I have a problem.

I have a stock present which I send to new parents, a particular book which was a favorite of my nieces. The problem is that I can’t remember if I’ve already sent the new arrival’s older brother a copy, in which case I’d need to hunt up an alternate (and I don’t remember which of my nieces’ many other books get such an enthusiastic response. Maybe this, which was a favorite of my own?)

Now Playing: Morning Wonder from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by The Earlies

Posted by pjm at 9:16 PM | Comments (3)

March 22, 2005

Fantasies

I spent plenty of my life in denial of what I liked to do. Sometimes, though, something calls to you in a way you can’t ignore.

For instance, when you open up the Specialized Products catalog, and let out involuntary interjections of “Cool!”… well, there’s a technical profession ahead of you. Don’t fight. And when the highlight of your work day is “shopping” online for rack-mount cabinets, well, that’s the geek version of Home Improvement. (Don’t buy tower servers for lack of a rack; buy rack-mount components so you can buy a rack!) And wouldn’t anyone feel a little bit like a special operative going through airports with this carry-on?

OK, I’ll stop scaring you now…

Now Playing: Don’t Push from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by The Exit

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March 16, 2005

Do I look like a shape-shifter?

No wonder people don’t bake more often. Here I find these instructions in my banana bread recipe:

Turn into greased loaf pan.

I think that’s a bit more metamorphosis than I had in mind, thank you.

And that’s not even in one of those fancy-dan, newfangled tofu-and-veggies Californized cook-books. That’s in Marge Standish’s Cooking Down East, which includes such pointed epigraphs as:

Parsley, parsley everywhere
Heavens, I like my victuals bare.

Posted by pjm at 9:13 PM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2005

And for good measure

The rental car company does not have the economy car requested, available. Instead, for the economy rate, we have a Crown Victoria. The power and ride may be nice, but I feel like radioing ahead for tugboats when I want to park.

Normally, in this situation, I wind up with minivans. (Twice, now.)

Posted by pjm at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

March 8, 2005

Carrying extra

On my outbound trip on Saturday, I dropped a few bags off at the Salvation Army, mostly clothes that either don’t fit all that well, or I don’t wear anymore. It seemed like a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference in the closets, nor do I miss any of it yet.

I think that means I should do another round. I don’t know how much is “enough” but it appears that I have more than that much.

Now Playing: Myrrh from Heyday by The Church

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March 7, 2005

Telescoping perspective

I have to admit, my perspective on these historic charms is probably a bit warped.

I remember the comic book store in the basement of the Customs House, for example. And the cats, not the governor’s library, in the reading room.

But I still love reading stuff like this, and giving depth to the memories.

Now Playing: Rainslicker from Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

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March 3, 2005

March

March is the waiting time. The town’s attitude towards snow, a large helping of which we got on Monday, has altered significantly with the turn of the calendar page, from resignation and acceptance to a mixture of despair and hope. The concrete manifestation is the shift from carefully scraping our sidewalks and driveways bare of white stuff, to grudgingly clearing the absolute minimum of space and waiting for the extended sunlight hours to melt the rest.

The astronomical “first day of spring” is on the same calendar page we are, along with Easter. We know the warm stuff is coming, and that promise is what’s carrying us through the “chance of flurries” graphics which litter the forecast.

Inside, things aren’t much different. I am in that time when graduate programs I have applied to might be responding to me. None have, yet, but they aren’t late yet, either. I know I’ll be moving forward in the fall, but until I know how, there’s not much for me to do but noodle around with transient little projects. I can keep my hands busy, but I feel like rot is setting in somewhere around the ambitious part of my head.

It’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But it’s March, and that means April is right around the corner. Right? Let’s just not discuss mud season, for the moment.

Now Playing: Telepath from Forget Yourself by The Church

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February 26, 2005

My best ideas do not come at my best times

Usually they arrive while I am standing in front of a locker, dripping. I would keep notebooks in lockers, but (a) they’d be perpetually damp, and (b) when would I get ideas from the notebooks? Doubtless I’d wind up leaving the notebooks there.

Alternately, while I am driving and have both hands occupied. I’ve considered voice recordings, but I can’t stand listening to recordings of myself. Ten-plus years ago my band made an album (cassette, actually) and I can barely stand listening to that.

I think I should be happy and flattered that the cat, who is quite capable of amusing himself, would rather play with me. Or at least, he’d rather I play with him than type.

Posted by pjm at 9:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2005

Good day

The Girl Scout Cookies have arrived. It’s time to work out this year’s incentive plan. Suggestions are welcome.

Now Playing: Grip from Beast Inside by Inspiral Carpets

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February 18, 2005

Striped

The stripes on a mackerel tabby are not the result of alternating, differently colored hairs. In fact, each hair has a short segment of white. The placement of that white segment, on thousands of hairs, is what makes the stripe.

It’s a very cool effect, actually.

Now Playing: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? from Combat Rock by The Clash

Posted by pjm at 9:28 PM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2005

Secret identity

Ever wondered about the shortage of superheroes nowadays?

I blame the diminishing number of phone booths. (Even those who can use a photo booth in a pinch won’t find many.)

Now Playing: Soon Enough from Inarticulate Nature Boy by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

The Corrections

In light of the (bizarre) snowstorm currently plastering Western Massachusetts (we got rain in lieu of the first ten forecast inches, and the initial coating came down in inch-wide clumps) the airline has preemptively cancelled our flight out tomorrow morning and rescheduled us two hours later.

This allows me to shift the planned swim tonight to tomorrow morning.

When updating our arrival time for the rental car reservation, my rate was somehow reduced, so we’re saving a few bucks.

In the bag for plane reading: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. I am betting on a raft of emails correcting this cheap hack’s usage after I finish.

Posted by pjm at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2005

Misnomer

“Gunpowder” green tea is named not for its taste, but for the way the dry leaves are curled in pellets—the way black powder is shipped.

I have no idea why we call them “colds.”

But even if we leave that conundrum behind, I don’t understand the things we call “cold remedies,” since they aren’t. I suspect that the tiny little pills in my bag represent an exchange of one sort of unpleasantness for another.

I would expect that a better “cold remedy” would be something hot. Like gunpowder green tea.

Now Playing: Valentine from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

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January 27, 2005

It's individual

(I have a column to file on Sunday, and depending on how Saturday goes, I might have to mine this for ideas, but here it is…)

Talk about any aspect of training with more than two runners, and it’s almost dead certain you’ll hear one of two phrases: “It’s an individual thing,” or “This works for me.” (The commercial-disclaimer variant, “Your mileage may vary,” abbreviated to YMMV is another favorite.)

Length of longest training run? Your mileage may vary. Best cross-training while injured? It’s an individual thing. What to eat the night before? This works for me.

This isn’t just evasiveness; there are a lot of reasons why most of this does vary between individuals, and I’ve mentioned this before. And it’s not really what I’m thinking about.

I’m thinking about how there’s such a tremendous advantage to training with a team, or even with one training partner. A good team can become more than just the sum of its members, through the shared effort and reward.

And I’m thinking, considering how many things about optimizing training vary between individuals, about how incredibly powerful (and astoundingly difficult) it must be to put together the kind of team where all those individual quirks can fit together. It must be amazingly rare, yet the Kenyans (and, more recently, the Ethiopians) seem to do it annually for the World Cross-Country meet.

Of course, the Kenyan method is rather like sculpture; you start with a big block of runners, and cut away anything that doesn’t look like a winning team. But it’s so much more successful that the American method, which is to put together a group of strong individuals and tell them they’re a team.

Now Playing: MPLS from Dead Man Shake by Grandpaboy

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January 13, 2005

It's that time of year

The time of year when my co-workers’ daughters come around the office selling Girl Scout Cookies.

I always buy from the ones who actually come to my office, not the ones whose parents leave the order form out for them. This usually means the twins. For some reason, I always wind up buying my GSCs from twins.

Now Playing: Song For The Fireflies from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

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January 12, 2005

Adaptations

Everything in town is etched in ice. A few weeks ago we were enjoying how warm the winter was; now, we’re seeing the downside. Each snowstorm comes with a helping of ice in the form of freezing rain and freezing melt-water. I periodically remember one winter in college when we got a storm in early January, about four inches of snow, followed immediately by rain, followed immediately by a cold snap. All winter we had a layer of white ice beneath whatever other snow arrived. B&G struggled all winter to clear the foot paths, but aside from a few small sections where the paths ran over steam lines we didn’t see bare pavement until nearly April. (One persistent house custodian cleared the twenty-foot front walk of his building and managed to keep it clear all winter, but he was an exception.)

With that in mind, I sometimes wonder if they could save some effort by running all the steam lines under the foot paths, but since the lines cleared the snow quickly, they also gave us the first and greenest grass of the spring.

As I walked and slithered over to the gym this evening, I saw a few limbs down, all from the pine trees. Trees, from an evolutionary standpoint, have all made different bets. The deciduous hardwoods, which are now nicely cased in a plating of ice, drop their leaves in the fall to avoid having to carry a load of ice on their limbs through the winter. They do this at a cost of slowing their own growth, and having to invest in a new set of leaves every spring, but it’s a conservative evolutionary choice they made. The evergreens, on the other hand, evolved thin leaves and flexible, forgiving (and load-shedding) limbs, and bet that winter couldn’t bring them down. Most of the time, they’re right, but in a winter like this one they are running pretty close to the edge, and we see dropped limbs everywhere.

We’ve got similar bets to make ourselves. We can clear the driveway and risk turning it into a skating rink when the next rain freezes, or we can leave the snow and risk having a basement layer of hard, white glacier that lasts late into March. We can shovel for a smooth icy space, or leave the slush for bumpy ice. It’s a tough guess to make. I park nose-out, walk when I can, and wait for mud season.

Posted by pjm at 8:59 PM | Comments (1)

January 11, 2005

In today's good news,

The Muffin is five today. I am in favor of decimal birthdays for her, since by the time she reaches another power of two (in three years) she will probably be less interested in having her uncle at her birthday parties.

I wonder if I can get the same wrapping help that I did for her sister.

Now Playing: Friction from A Box Of Birds by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2005

Annie's sign

Another good sign at Annie’s Garden Center on the way to work today:

Southbound: I child-proofed my house

Northbound: But they still get in

It’s too bad I’m northbound on my way to work, so I usually see the punch line first.

Now Playing: Radio Girl from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine

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January 6, 2005

Pay attention!

Have you ever wanted to scold a commenter on another weblog? I can think of at least three comments on different weblogs in the past month where I’ve wanted to shake the commenter and say, “Pay attention! If you’d been reading closely, you’d know what a silly thing that was to say!” (Not here, of course. Here, there are no stupid questions, even if there are some inquisitive idiots.)

Of course, it’s not my site, so I try to resist. I feel like a backseat moderator.

Now Playing: Welcome from Magician Among The Spirits by The Church

Posted by pjm at 1:15 PM | Comments (3)

January 4, 2005

Portable storage

While I’m attempting to shed stuff, I notice that Scheherazade is, as usual, doing it more thoughtfully. (On the other hand, I think my closet is a bit more boring than hers. OK, a lot more boring.)

I should also add that one of my external hard drives is now on eBay. It’s tiny (6 GB and about the size of two decks of cards) and therefore portable, but 6 GB isn’t enough for me to back up to anymore. I got this drive in 2000, when I was working for another company and had a laptop that belonged to the company. I kept all my personal files and programs on this drive, and when it was time to give the laptop back, I could just unplug the drive.

It’s Firewire, which not all PCs have but nearly all Macs have nowadays. It’s also very fast, particularly if you’re used to USB.

Now Playing: Crawling Back To You from Wildflowers by Tom Petty (still on battery power after over nine hours!)

Posted by pjm at 5:06 PM | Comments (1)

January 3, 2005

Short-timer

Today’s sobering realization comes courtesy of the office “Holiday Closings for 2005” list, when I realize that I won’t actually be here for six of the ten listed three-day weekends.

Now Playing: Almost Grown by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 3:26 PM | Comments (0)

January 1, 2005

Starting the bidding at...

One of my goals for January is to lighten my load. Literally, the odds are excellent that I will be moving before the end of the year, whatever the outcome of the graduate school conundrum, and the less I’m carrying with me, the happier I’ll be while that’s happening.

To that end, I’ve been working on ways to offload more than books. I signed up for the local Freecycle list, which has found a home for one medium appliance (replaced) and will hopefully be the destination for more stuff which has less value to me than the cost of disposing of it. Extra computer keyboards, for example, or a well-used laptop wireless card.

Also, today I registered as a seller on eBay, and I’m hoping to generate some cash from extraneous computer hardware which is no longer needed on my desk. The first item is a good example; I’m starting with a wireless bridge which we don’t need now that (a) I have an Airport Express, and (b) we’re on DSL, which allowed me to move the network hub closer to the computers using the network.

As I write this, my Mac is repeatedly writing random data to every sector of a 6 GB Firewire hard disk which will be next up. I will post links here when they are listed, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this wants some of my (relatively) inexpensive and slightly used hardware.

Posted by pjm at 6:38 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2004

Unholidays

Maybe it’s the applications. Maybe it’s the feeling at the base of my skull like my brain is gnawing its way out. But whatever the reason, the end of the year is feeling more like a deadline than anything else. And it’s a deadline for a project I haven’t started. I don’t even know what it is.

Now Playing: Impossible from Us And Us Only by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 4:19 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2004

Homer presents

I used to work with a guy whose annual Christmas tradition was exchanging “Homer gifts” with his wife. The name comes from a Simpsons episode where Homer buys Marge a bowling ball (with “Homer” engraved in it) for her birthday. In this case, he and his wife each went out, bought something for themselves, then wrapped it and gave it to the other.

Honestly, I didn’t have that in mind.

I ordered a “normal” iPod for A. before she mentioned that she was thinking of getting a Mini. It happens that she probably won’t even fill the 4 GB the Mini has, but the smallest regular iPod is 20 GB. Meanwhile, I use a “3G” model (actually 10 GB) which I have packed to the gills. The battery is toast, but since the two contexts where I use it the most (hooked to a machine running iTunes, or in the car) provide direct power, that hasn’t bothered me too much.

Anyway, for some reason a trade was negotiated whereby I get the new 20 GB unit (which has already been named “Twenty”) in exchange for my 10 GB unit (retroactively named “Ten,”) but only after I perform another round of iPod surgery to install a newer, longer-lived battery in “Ten,” making it better-suited to use on a treadmill. That process will probably also hard-reset the unit to factory settings, so aside from the scuffs of time, it will be “like new” but with a better battery than the ones Apple uses.

That was not, honestly, what I had in mind when I bought the gift… actually, I had mentioned just buying myself one and handing down “Ten,” but I didn’t think it would work with Windows. Now, having seen how “Twenty” works, I think it probably will.

Now Playing: Sweet Adeline from XO by Elliott Smith

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December 24, 2004

Holiday card

Cat with candy cane

Take your Christmas spirit where you find it…

Posted by pjm at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Office disruption

My boss’s kids are getting a kitten for Christmas. He adopted it from the shelter this afternoon, and it just arrived in his office, a long-haired grey tiger. She’s a tiny little thing, only eight weeks old, but not at all shy; she pushed her head right up into my palm when I scratched behind her ears. She’s much smaller than Iz was when we adopted him.

She stays at a neighbor’s tonight, then arrives at her new home on Christmas Eve, after the kids are asleep.

Needless to say, there’s a regular chorus of coos coming from next door as two-thirds of the office makes excuses to visit.

Now Playing: The Last Polka from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 3:13 PM | Comments (0)

Papered with good intentions

I hope nobody was holding their breath waiting for a holiday card from me. I think it’s time I accepted that the years I actually manage to get cards in the mail are more the exception than the rule; it’s happened maybe once or twice in the past decade.

It’s only receiving cards that makes me feel at all guilty about it. With the exception of my parents, the people I get paper cards from tend to be people I see only a few times in a given year, if at all; one arrived today from a member of a small training group I used to run with once or twice a month in DC, nearly five years ago. I last saw him in Birmingham, Alabama, as we dashed around downtown watching the men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. I can’t say that much of his letter meant much to me (I’m not sure I ever met his wife, for instance) but relatively speaking, he’s maintaining our connection, and I’m the mute one. That’s the pattern.

I’m hemmed in by the feeling that if I just try to email everyone, it’s too impersonal, but the idea of hunting up postal addresses and writing is the barrier (well, one of them) that keeps actual paper from heading out. The deadline is tedious, too. Maybe I should just blow off the deadline, get some season-neutral cards, and send everyone a card in, say, February, when we could all use the pick-up anyway.

I did have a first this year: an e-card from someone I (previously) knew only by an online “handle.” (You know who you are.) It did take some thinking to suss out the connection and recognize that it wasn’t utterly random mail.

In the spirit of giving, though, I may just not post very much over the holiday weekend, unless something absolutely begs to be written up. I wouldn’t want you all to come back from the long weekend and be too far behind on your weblog reading.

Now Playing: Comedown from Magician Among The Spirits by The Church

Posted by pjm at 2:53 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2004

Back in action

I left for work a bit early this morning, and made a trip down to the south end of town to leave three boxes of books at Reader to Reader. I had originally planned to leave them at the local library, barely a block from the apartment, but there was hassle involved (call to arrange a drop-off, none of these books, none of those books, etc.) and there was a link on their page to Reader to Reader, who seemed ready to take anything I had to offer. And I could just swing by and drop them off.

When I was in college, moving my books meant three boxes, and I think mentally I still thought they were three boxes even after I swamped all available bookshelves in post-graduation apartments. My parents gradually offloaded the ten full shelves in my old bedroom to me, and I just keep accumulating them. There’s something comforting, to me, about having them available for re-reading. I’m not good at borrowing books, probably because I’m worried that I’ll like them and not want to return them. However, I’d estimate my current library requires forty-five to fifty linear feet of shelving.

In the moves I’ve made since returning to Massachusetts, I’ve begun sorting out ones I’m pretty sure I won’t re-read, and giving them away. I’ve given boxes to the Jones and Forbes Libraries, and now Reader to Reader. It’s not easy to let go of them, but when I realized that I couldn’t remember what was in these boxes, I took it as a good sign I wouldn’t miss them.

Beyond that, what’s motivating me this time is the clear destination for the books. With the libraries, it’s a bit ambiguous; sometimes the books go on the shelves, sometimes to the book sale, whatever. With Reader to Reader, they’re all going to libraries otherwise low on books. They’re going back into circulation, instead of stagnating on my shelves. I like that idea.

Now Playing: Fred Jones, Part 2 from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2004

Open letter to the driver of the car in front of me

If you sweep the four inches of powder off your hood, it won’t blow up in your windshield when you start driving.

By extension, if you sweep the four inches of powder off your roof and trunk, if won’t blow off on my windshield when I’m following you.

This is also important when there is a crust on the snow (as there was the other week) and it’s coming off your roof in big slabs.

Now Playing: Little Wing from Still in Hollywood by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)

December 19, 2004

The Christmastime kitten

This will be Iz’s second Christmas with us; he was adopted on the 27th, two years ago. This year, his normal hosts when we travel are also going to be away for the holidays, so we have a bit of a conundrum.

  • We could bring him with us. He’s a pretty good cat in the car for short trips, but this is a four-hour drive, much longer than he’s ever done before. And there’s the risk that he will decide my allergic-to-cats sister-in-law is his new best friend.
  • He could piggy-back on whatever dog-sitting the famous dog will have. This seems unlikely.
  • We could find someone who would come here at least once a day to feed him and play with him for a little while. Again, this seems unlikely, and both of these solutions leave him alone for most of the day.
  • We could find a place to board him.

I can’t really imagine him being happy with any of these solutions. I wish we could just ask him what he’d want to do.

Posted by pjm at 1:23 PM | Comments (2)

December 18, 2004

Calorie budget

With an indoor cat, there’s always some issues with getting his exercise. Tonight we (briefly) considered, instead of feeding him, releasing a live mouse into the apartment twice a day. We’d have to make it harder for the mouse to hide, though.

Posted by pjm at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

Compound fracture

A few years ago, I picked up a drop-leaf end table at the annual Bryant Homestead craft festival. It’s been useful for holding phones and plants and things, and a few days ago A. started using it as a temporary laptop desk in front of the couch. And then last night I noticed that one of the legs, which has a pretty good sized knot in it, has split almost completely through at the knot.

I think the leg is pretty much finished; there’s no point in “splinting” it. I suppose I could glue it at the break, but I don’t think I’d trust that. It looks like the top end of the leg is glued in to the tabletop; I’d have to amputate somewhere below the tabletop and put on a new leg.

This sounds nice in general, but the devil is certainly in the details. I suppose I’ll need to join it with pegs. (Trunnels?)

Now Playing: Beautiful Night from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 9:59 PM | Comments (0)

Painful realization

It’s no good breathing a sigh of relief.

It doesn’t matter how long you agonized over the wording of the email or considered the implications and phrasing. Sending the message does not resolve the issue. Sending the message invites a reply, which you can then anticipate with trepidation.

I really have to get better at this communication thing. It’s hard to find a good hermitage nowadays.

Now Playing: Independence Day from XO by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 3:21 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

Why not duck?

There’s snow forecast for tonight, so the College has been out treating their walkways, and a few town sidewalks as well. They spray some kind of liquid to prevent ice from accumulating on the walkways, and it has a familiar smell. A few winters ago, I saw where they had applied it where the snow was already down, and it turns out to have a brownish tinge. So far as I can tell, they’re applying soy sauce to the walkways.

That would explain why snow makes me hungry, anyway.

Now Playing: Basement Apt. from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 6:48 PM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2004

Old home weekend

One of my cousins is traveling this weekend to the area I used to live in Pennsylvania. Her boyfriend is finishing an MBA program in St. Louis, and is a step or two away from taking a job at one of the major companies in the area (not the one I worked for.)

I called and talked to her for a while. I didn’t have much to tell her; I gave her a phone number of a roommate who’s still in the area and suggested a few neighborhoods. Vaguely. Mostly I tried to tell her that it’s a good place to live, which felt really odd to me considering how ready I was to get away when I left. I don’t suppose I would be in a hurry to move back, come to think of it, but I do have good memories, for the most part, of my time there.

It wasn’t the strongest argument. “It’s a great place, you’ll love it, I’m not going back.” Still, I guess I’d rather see her there than in St. Louis. I’m a booster. I want to get her plugged in. I hope it’s not because I’m seeing it as my second shot at the area.

If they move there, I’ll visit, for certain.

Now Playing: Beautiful Night from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

Request for comment

What should I sign up to contribute to the office potluck? My co-workers, I should add, are kitchen over-achievers. I’ve brought fudge and cookies before.

Now Playing: It’s Alright For You from Regatta de Blanc by The Police

Posted by pjm at 11:27 AM | Comments (6)

November 28, 2004

The cat that walked by himself

If you did not, when you were quite young, have some or all of the Just So Stories read aloud to you, you missed out on some lovely writing. In addition to my personal favorite, “The Elephant’s Child,” phrases from “The Cat That Walked By Himself” have always stuck in my mind.

While the theme of the story seems to be that the Cat made a better collective-bargaining agreement than the other domestic-animal unions, and therefore earned some significant resentment, some nights I think that Iz is angling for a different deal. I think he’s bored with walking by himself.

He’s not a very talkative cat, except maybe during the Festival of the Full Moon, but last night we had eight or nine people in the apartment, and he clearly enjoyed the attention. After everyone had gone home, and the lights were out, I started to hear the protest songs. “Maooow. Where did all my playmates go? Maoaoaow. It’s lonely in here with nobody to play with. Maow.”

I wonder what he’s planning on putting on the bargaining table?

Posted by pjm at 9:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2004

Making a contribution

Well, Housefrau I ain’t, but I do make good banana bread, thanks to Marge Standish.

Thanksgiving Banana Bread

Posted by pjm at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

AOL and evil

Now there’s two concepts you never expected to see linked, right? After all, don’t we all wait in breathless anticipation for the next CD loaded with free hours to arrive in our mail? For the next version of the software?

Well, while I was gleefully breaking down the last gift of plastic and paper from the Dulles corridor, I scanned the case for recycling symbols.

None. On a plastic case the size of a trade paperback book. All I got to recycle was the paper label; everything else had to go into the waste stream.

I am shocked, shocked! to see such disregard for the realities of waste disposal and our environment on the part of a corporate behemoth. Now, if only we could decide who’s going to step up and bop them one for this and a few zillion similar crimes. Who’s first? The feds? California? Their customers, I mean “members”? Nope, they’re all going to sit on their hands and let the municipal waste folks take it on the chin. Ah, the politics of responsibility…

Now Playing: Auctioneer (Another Engine) from Fables Of The Reconstruction by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 1:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2004

Route around the damage

There was an Ellen Goodman column in the paper the other week about Texas and its insistence that textbooks purchased by the state define marriage as between a man and a woman, and not mention contraception. Some more conservative colleges have gone further and are requesting (don’t laugh) biology textbooks which don’t include evolution and natural selection. (This is not unlike “fat-free ice cream,” I think. The concepts are really hard to separate.)

The veiled implication is that the massive buying weight of the state of Texas is going to drive contraception and Darwinism out of all our textbooks. Perhaps that might have been the case once, but the world has moved on.

It’s getting increasingly easy for publishers to “custom-publish” relatively small print runs economically. What we’re more likely to see is special “Texas editions” of textbooks, custom-edited for the creationism/abstinence market. Some editors will be holding their noses doing it (I work for a company which has published a few salvos in this battle,) but it will happen.

And, recognizing the stunted preparation of students who used these books, we’ll start seeing institutions of higher learning looking on applicants from Texas with a jaundiced eye. They’ll be pushed into remedial classes or simply not accepted. That would be nearly any biology-related graduate field: neuroscience, biotech, ecology, medicine. Want Junior to be a doctor when he grows up? Don’t send him to school in Texas. If the state insists on underpreparing its students, higher education will route around the damage.

Posted by pjm at 6:57 PM | Comments (4)

November 13, 2004

Too paternal?

I was just playing catch with the cat.

Really. Catch. I mean, he doesn’t toss it back, or anything. But he will catch.

In fact, pound for pound, I think he makes Nomah look pretty pathetic. I mean, name the MLB shortstop with a vertical leap twice his own height.

Posted by pjm at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004

Wishes update

I have been hacking at the wish list project for a good chunk of today. I think it’s workable, now, though it lacks a lot of refinement (and certainly lacks any more than functional design.)

I think if there was ever a quiz which asked, “What’s your favorite flow control function?” (maybe the “Intolerable Geek” quiz,) mine would be switch(). In fact, I think the world needs more switch(), because it’s not binary, and it’s very flexible. It can even be inclusive. I’m very fond of switch(). I’m also (belatedly) realizing that my total lifetime output of PHP code could be reduced by some significant percentage (and probably run marginally faster) if I used list() more judiciously. There’s always more to learn, always room to grow. (Or shrink, in this case.)

Obviously, I’ve set this up for me and my family. However, it’s arranged such that it can handle multiple families, and (obviously) overlapping families; you tell it which families you want to see lists for, they can then see yours, and off you go. If the family you want isn’t there, you add it.

I’ve got a few beta testers in the family, but some of my family members are notorious technophobes, and I want to make sure I’ve ironed this out as much as possible. Is anyone here interested in beta testing? This isn’t going to hack your system, erase your email, phone your mother and call her names if there’s a bug; however, it does require anyone you want to see your list to also register (and therefore implicitly create a list of their own.)

(And if you’re asking, “Why not use Amazon’s?” you haven’t been following along: roughly, the problem is that with an Amazon wish list, you can see when someone bought something for you. No fun, in my opinion. Plus, this setup allows others to suggest items for you—and you can’t see the suggestions, either. So it allows for some serendipity.)

Let me know. Drop a comment, email, whatever. If there’s interest, I’ll publish the URL this weekend, or just email it to anyone who asks.

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (0)

On the other hand

I did finally get a positive response from one of my many emails to the University Which Won’t Talk To Me. (I’ll have to start calling them the University Which Wouldn’t Talk To Me.) Nine days from initial contact to response, but they aren’t trying to run a customer-focused operation over there. (Or, to put it another way, they haven’t decided if they want me as a customer yet.)

Now I need to get my questions in line. (And start putting the applications together: just over a month to the first deadline, and most of them in two months.)

Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 9, 2004

Maybe we just haven't found the right tree

A. is perpetually amused that I am one of those people who stops and picks up small change when I spot it lying on the ground. She makes a point of giving me all the coins she finds, and since she covers more ground than I do nowadays, she normally has a big lead in cash found.

Until this week. On Sunday, I found a dollar bill. (On a Manhattan sidewalk, no less.) Then today I found a five.

Are they blowing down with the leaves?

Now Playing: Your Skies Are Mine from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 5:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 6, 2004

A legend in winter

I will, I promise, come back to that thought about the lack of an omniscient viewpoint in sporting events, but I was at a seminar this afternoon which affected me pretty strongly, and I want to at least explore a bit of why before I lose it. I took a lot of notes, and hopefully they’ll still make sense to me when I have time to write them up.

The seminar almost didn’t happen. It was scheduled for Monday, the 8th, then abruptly cancelled not long before the event. Someone who had planned to attend asked why it was cancelled, and on hearing the reason (no venue) lined up the logistics and rescheduled it for today (Saturday the 6th.) Partly due to the last-minute preparations, the word did not get around, and I was one of maybe six or eight people in attendance.

This was a surprise because the speaker was Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealander who coached four athletes to six medals (four gold) at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics, and taught the coaches of more other gold medalists than I can easily count. One of his direct athletes was Peter Snell, who won the 800m in both Rome and Tokyo, and doubled back to win the 1500m in Tokyo. Lydiard’s methods don’t appear particularly revolutionary, but they’re so effective that nowadays nearly every track coach worth the title uses at least part of his approach. To name just one of his advances, he pioneered the idea of periodizing training to peak for a single goal race.

I’d seen Lydiard speak before. My coach in Pennsylvania was an enthusiastic disciple of his, and on his last American tour in 1999 he made sure Lydiard stopped in Emmaus, where he spoke to a packed room which included our entire training group. Somewhere I’ve got a blurry picture of all of us with him, and a signed copy of his book, Running to the Top. A few weeks later I ran a PR marathon in Columbus, qualified for Boston, and was sold on the program.

Lydiard is nowhere near as spry now as he was then, when he joined us for a few beers after the lecture. (Yes, I’ve had a beer with Arthur Lydiard. Yes, I am a shameless name-dropper. I spent this evening with international magazine editors, a successful playwright and at least one rock star. I am not making this up, but I am presenting it in the most glamourous way possible. But I digress.) He’s had a stroke since he was here last, and is frighteningly wobbly when he walks (he knows this,) and remarkably non-linear when he talks (he doesn’t appear to be aware of this.) His tour manager (for lack of a better title) had a very good presentation set up, and essentially he walked through the presentation as a skeleton and let Lydiard interject stories, examples, and principles as they came up. He provided the structure, and Lydiard provided the rambling.

It worked well, but it seemed to me that this may be the last chance I had to see him. I think I absorbed a lot more of the core principles of his system than I had before, and I’ll try to describe them in a series of posts which are likely to bore you all to tears if you’re not endurance athletes or lunatics, like I am. (Both, thank you.) Unless I can find another good home for my fleshed-out notes, in which case I’ll link to them.

Anyway, the thing which struck me (and, in fact, got me pretty warmed up) was how startlingly simple it all is. Coaching an athlete, developing an athlete, with this system, is almost like baking bread. You add the right things in the right proportions, in the right order, give it enough time, and you get good results. He’s got his share of incongruous add-on results to work around isolated problems (for example, the advice I gave to the Scoplaw some months ago to take calcium and/or magnesium to prevent cramping muscles,) but the bulk of the system is really pretty easy to understand. (Maybe it just seemed that way to me, since I’ve been steeped in it for so long; I think the first real coach I ever had, in high school, worked mostly from Lydiard’s canon.)

But I feel like a lot of coaches who think they understand how to develop athletes—particularly at the high-school level, where there isn’t really a lot of qualification needed to coach—are adapting their own training to their athletes’. And in most cases they don’t really understand the principles behind the specifics, or their own coaches (if they had any) didn’t explain the reasoning behind the system. It looks like there’s an effort on to preserve Lydiard’s legacy; I hope they can contribute to making the sort of presentation I saw today easily accessible.

Posted by pjm at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 3, 2004

Understanding me

This morning, more than any time since I started this, I don’t feel like I have anything to say which anyone wants to read. I suspect I’ll spend the day talking to computers, which can be convinced to listen to me if I punctuate correctly.

Now Playing: Rock N Roll from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

November 2, 2004

Big day

Vote early, vote often.

I had a nice long screed put together yesterday about all the name-calling in this election (not by the candidates—by their supporters) but once I had it out of my system and on the screen, I didn’t feel compelled to post it anymore.

I did my bit this morning, along with a healthy line of neighbors. Tonight I plan to hack on the Wish List project, crack open an iPod or two (mmm, nothing like warm solder and a mischievous cat to liven up your evening,) and ignore news sites. There’s nothing more I can do.

Now Playing: God Put A Smile Upon Your Face from A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 9:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2004

Jack the tiger

As promised, our lantern, unlit and lit.

Jack o' lantern cat face, unlit

Jack o' lantern cat face, lit

I got compliments. From people who don’t know me, even.

Posted by pjm at 9:06 PM | Comments (2)

If wishes were horses...

…I’d still be relying on my own two feet.

I spent a chunk of Friday downtime starting to suss out the web app I’ve been calling “the wish list.” I created the subdomain and database on my host, laid out the database tables as best I could guess (I’m sure they’ll need tweaking as I go along, though,) and started thinking through site flow (that is, where a user starts, where they can go from there, where they can go from there, etc.)

I came up with half a dozen pages just for access control and authentication alone, and got discouraged with trying to imagine it all in detail, so this morning I’ve started coding up the access control parts. It’s easier than I’d expected; I forgot about PHP’s session functions, which make it pretty easy to remember that someone has authenticated (and who they authenticated as) through a session, then “forget” that data when they log out by closing the session. I’m hoping I can complete all the user-handling code today, then put some evenings this week in to the list-handling code.

I’m discovering that what’s different about this one is that the application is more complicated than the data. Most of what I’ve dealt with at work is just two different views of the data, the content manager’s view and the reader’s view. Here, how much of each record (and which records) are displayed is heavily dependent on what user is asking for it; there’s a lot of query and presentation logic in the application, so I have to do a lot more PHP thinking, and not as much MySQL thinking.

I haven’t even started to think about the presentation layer; everything is in bare, unstyled default HTML. I’m going to need a style sheet one of these days.

Now playing: Six O’Clock News from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (3)

October 30, 2004

Pumpkin

Tonight was pumpkin soup, apple pie, beer and pumpkin carving at the house of an acquaintance of mine. I actually used to race him now and then in high school, but he was notably faster than I was. After a few years out in the midwest, he transferred to UMass, and his brother is now the coach at the College, so he’s been in Amherst ever since. His girlfriend is new in town, and I suspect the motivation here was to help her feel a bit more at home; it’s not easy moving somewhere and not knowing most of the people. There weren’t more than eight or ten people there at a time, but about fifteen passed through.

It was a really good time. The food was great, though the host’s family pretended it wasn’t. We were mostly runners, but that didn’t dominate the conversation entirely. Our lives overlapped in odd ways; we’d all run the same races different years, lived in the same towns at different times, gone to the same colleges in different years. We’d gone to the same concerts; I felt like the host’s music selection had all been lifted from CDs I’d keep in the car if I kept CDs in the car.

I was a little intimidated by the pumpkin carving (not that you’d notice from how I dug in.) Our host is a professional illustrator and I knew he’d produce some interesting lanterns. He did, and so did his girlfriend; in particular, he had a massive one which he used nearly all of in a bug-eyed gargoyle not unlike this one. I want to drive by their house tomorrow night and get a picture of it sitting out. I did a credible cat-face, which I’m actually a little proud of. I was worried that the rind was too thick and my cuts too thin for light to shine through, but we put a candle in it and it worked out all right. I brought it home; tomorrow I’ll light it and put it on the porch, and if I can get a good picture I’ll post it.

Posted by pjm at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2004

Festival

If I seem a little sleepy lately, it’s because the later part of the week has been the Festival of the Full Moon at our apartment. It’s celebrated pretty much any month when the full moon is visible, and can be a multi-night celebration. Iz is the primary celebrant, of course, and he decides which months will be celebrated and what form the celebration will take.

The early part of this month’s celebration was to be celebrated around midnight, with a toy known as “the chili pepper” (a long story.) Finding few takers for the ritual at that hour, he shifted to a passionate re-enactment, around 4 AM, of the cataclysmic struggles with the Great Scourge of the Bathroom, a production which involved props and a great deal of howling and banging from one end of the apartment to the other.

Somewhat later, when the celebrant’s acolyte (finally!) rose to prepare breakfast, his sluggishness was punished with a bite to the hand.

I’ll be happy when the festival is over for the month. If nothing else, I’ll sleep more.

Now Playing: Red Army Blues from A Pagan Place by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 1:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2004

Demographics matter

You hear a lot of bold declarations and opinions stated as fact in an election season. It’s tempting and easy to assume that just because you see something as self-evident, everyone else will agree with you; this can lead, however, to a fair amount of frustration when you find that they don’t.

I’m not one for arguing over these things. Sometimes I will quietly vent some steam through my ears or shout at the car radio when I hear a candidate saying things I disagree with, but for the most part I form my own opinions and let others form theirs. It’s not a kind of friction I like.

Still, there’s one idea I’ve heard a few times this time around that I really do think is so outright wrong-headed that I need to say something. It’s expressed two ways, but boils down to the same turning point. That’s the concept of a “wasted vote” or a vote that “doesn’t matter.”

The “wasted vote” idea is heard a lot about “third-” or minor-party candidates. Why bother voting, the idea goes, when you’re voting for someone who doesn’t have a chance to win? After the last election, the idea gathered a lot more steam when a minor-party candidate drew a lot of votes—enough, in fact, that had they voted instead for one of the two major-party candidates, they might have turned the entire national election the other way.

I’m sorry, that’s just backwards. Those votes weren’t wasted. I’d say every individual who cast one of those votes spoke louder than any of the millions who voted for the other two. Politics isn’t binary, despite our desperate attempts to make it so, and a significant minority of my fellow citizens told us, four years ago, that our system was broken if such a small minority could throw it off the rails simply by speaking their minds. I’m disappointed that instead of creating some momentum for fixing it, we’ve simply told that minority to shut up and join the rest of us in our black and white world. The solutions are easy enough: refining and streamlining the electoral college. An end to gerrymandered congressional districts designed to make 90% of the country “safe” for one party or the other. And something like instant runoff voting that lets every voter cast one vote—but also provide a hierarchy of candidates they’d “settle” for if their favorite has no hope of a majority. If we can’t vote for a candidate who reflects our opinions and priorities for fear of “wasting” a vote, the system needs fixing.

The next part is near and dear to my heart here in Massachusetts. We’ve enjoyed a relative lack of signs, campaign speeches, and, I suppose, television advertising (though everyone is free to avoid television ads the way I do: turn it off!) We’re one of those “safe” states. The problem with this is when we assume that the outcome is a foregone conclusion (and I’ll admit it probably is,) we don’t get as motivated to go out and actually vote. Hey, it doesn’t matter—we know which way this state will go, right?

Wrong. It does matter. Not because we’re about to become a swing state; I think the pollsters would have caught that by now. But because politicians are always campaigning to the demographics of the last election, and, to a limited degree, the issues of it as well. I want them to see people my age out voting, no matter who for; in fact, I’d rather we show up and put a blank ballot in the box than not vote at all. If we show that we’re there, they might start listening to us. Maybe for once the baby boomers will let us get a demographic word in edgewise, before they finish wrecking everything.

There’s a guy on a listserv I’ve been on for years who will freely imply his political opinions at the drop of a hat, but loudly insists (about every two years) that he doesn’t vote. See, he’s a recovering alcoholic, and his assertion is that since he proved (to himself) that he can’t be trusted to take care of himself, now he’s given over all responsibility—including politics—to his Higher Power. It infuriates me every time I read it, because I suspect that behind the sanctimoniousness is plain laziness, and the effect isn’t “the removal of one irresponsible vote,” but the silencing of one voice. What if his higher power is giving him the chance to change the world with a vote? He’d never know.

The campaign season gives us an illusion that everything ends at election day. It doesn’t; it begins then. If you don’t vote next Tuesday, you’re invisible for the next four years.

It doesn’t matter what you think for that time; you don’t vote, so politicians don’t listen to you. They tune their policies to appeal to people who vote, or at least people they think will vote.

It’s too late to register here in Massachusetts, but some states (including the great state of Maine) will register voters up to election day. (I believe I first registered for a gubernatorial primary in Maine, and voted on the same day.) Show up. Check a few boxes, or leave them blank if you don’t like the choices. (Imagine how fast a restaurant’s menu would change if over half the people seated looked at the menu, then got up and left without ordering!) Is there something about the process that’s made you lose the motivation to vote? Not voting is sitting in the corner and sulking. Voting is saying you want it fixed.

OK, sermon’s over. You can uncover your eyes now. I can’t promise that I won’t be political again before the election, but I probably won’t be quite this strident again unless I’m talking about spammers, phishers, crackers or phreaks. Or the Continuing Education division.

Now playing: Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) from Pleased to Meet You by James

Posted by pjm at 9:20 PM | Comments (1)

October 27, 2004

My evening runneth over

  • The Nields have a blog.

  • NetNewsWire 2 reads Atom feeds, so in addition to the Nields, I can finally read Julie and stag in the aggregator. (Tom, you’re the last hold-out.)

  • NNW also checks your clipboard when you click the subscribe button, so if you’ve copied a feed URL, it’s already in the window when you click “subscribe”—no need for the “paste” step. It’s the little touches that make it so nice!

  • The Sox are up already after the first inning. I hope if there are riots at UMass, the fires are put out before they reach our neighborhood. (That’s a joke.)

  • There’s a total lunar eclipse happening, like, now, and it’s a clear night. Don’t get caught inside watching the game!

Posted by pjm at 9:12 PM | Comments (0)

Could it be that simple?

Around lunchtime today, I drove across under the shoulder of Bull Hill, an arm of the Mt. Toby range (which is, I should add, absolutely stunning in orange and yellow right now,) through Leverett and into the back roads of Shutesbury. (Who am I kidding—Shutesbury is all back roads.)

I did this because I had an appointment with a particular podiatrist, one who is apparently so good that he teaches in Boston most of the week and has office appointments on Wednesday only, in this corner of the Pelham hills. He also doesn’t bill insurance, which simplifies things tremendously even if it can be somewhat expensive. Despite these hurdles, this was the earliest appointment I could get when I called in mid-September.

I laid out my injury history, these rounds of PF plus the iliotibial band syndrome from early 2003, the rolled ankles in early 2000 and late 2001, the ITBS from early 1999 and the weird ankle problem in 2000 which was supposed to be a fractured or dislocated navicular bone (but wasn’t.) With that data, plus an examination of my feet, ankles, knees and hips both loaded and unloaded (that is, with me standing up and lying down) he came to the following conclusions:

(1) Inflammation of my plantar fascia is a secondary symptom; my real problem is damage to the muscle which pulls my big toe, which is under the plantar fascia and slightly higher up my arch. Since I have a pretty long, bouncy stride (“miler’s stride,” one coach called it,) this is a pretty serious problem. (If I was a horse, they might have shot me by now.)

(2) This, and most of my previous injuries, is due to my tendency to hit the ground with the outside (lateral side) of my foot. As my un-even foot rocks in to meet the (relatively) even ground, it twists my foot into a more pronounced pronation (roll towards the inner or medial side) than I would normally have. This in turn puts a greater load on my big toe at toe-off, which leads to the inflamed PF and injured muscle. This is called a “forefoot/rearfoot varus abnormality” and it is apparently relatively common despite the name. He showed me how he thought this led to the ITBS and how it would also heavily load the navicular bone and possibly, eventually, dislocate it. (My navicular bones are preternaturally prominent on the medial side of my feet, once leading my father to exclaim, “What is wrong with your feet?!?”)

The solution, as it always seems to be, is orthoses: inserts for my shoes which essentially allow for my tilted feet to strike the ground squarely. He made them on the spot, and I feel like I’m going to roll out of my shoes now. However, if he’s right, once the inflammation is gone—and I hope the acupuncture will help with that—I should be able to start in running again.

Obviously, as long as my feet still hurt, I’m still not running. But this is the first of the many people I’ve described this problem to who has come up with a theory for why they hurt, and tried to address that cause, instead of simply starting me down a pre-ordained regimen for making them stop hurting.

Now playing: When I’m Here from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 8:04 PM | Comments (2)

October 24, 2004

Wish List

(For once, something that really belongs in the “wishful thinking” category…)

Some more discussion around the family dinner table involved family members with a tendency to get an early start on Christmas shopping. (I thought I was being harried by aunts at Thanksgiving, but when my sister-in-law asks about my list at Thanksgiving, it’s because I’m the last one she hasn’t checked off her list. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous.)

One thing we discussed was the possibility of creating a sort of on-line family registry. The idea is that family members would each be able to post a list. Then other family members would be able to not only read the list, but mark things off to avoid duplicates. So far, so Amazon.com, but the catch which I want to apply is more Christmasy: I don’t want the list owner to be able to see what, if anything, has been marked off their list. (I’m all about the surprises under the wrapping.) A. also suggested that others should be able to put items on others’ lists, so (as an example) if someone was getting charts, that could spark waterproof chart bags, or something like that. So there’s a rough idea of your feature set.

Following the great dictum about hammers and nails (“When the only tool you have is a hammer…”) I immediately started thinking of it as a MySQL/PHP application. I’d need to authenticate all users, because I’d need to do access control based on what username they auth with. I allow each login ownership of a list. (Maybe I’d need some way of managing lists for minors, i.e. The Pink Ladies.) So there’s one table: users and user data. And a small collection of forms-and-applications for auth, password creation, alteration and retrieval, etc. etc. Users can add items to the lists, so there’s another table: items. Relationship to user (the gift recipient) and creator, because when the user is also the recipient, there will have to be controls over what they can see and edit. They can’t see items others have created with them as recipient; they can’t see status of items they created with them as recipient. Items have titles, brief descriptions, maybe URLs, maybe images? (We’d need forms to upload image files.) Suggested sources, perhaps. We need to allow for both catalog-circlers and those who try to stay vague and inspire serendipity.

We’d need a mechanism for changing the status of an item.

The only thing I can’t map out in my head is the final trick: as the database owner, I would be able to look in the database and see status on everything—essentially, since I create the access control, I can also bypass it. I’m trying to figure out some way that I can store status such that the database owner can’t check it—it can only be read through the relevant PHP application. I’m thinking about using a unique hash for each item (maybe I hash the title?) and then deliberately scramble the hash when the status changes… but no, if I can figure out a way to check it with the application, I could write another application that bypasses the access control and gets it back out.

Maybe I need to apply public-key encryption and force my users to generate keys. I’m probably thinking about this too much anyway, because I suspect there would be enough people in the family who wouldn’t use it, or would constantly forget their password, or would ask [insert other family member here] to remember their password for them…

Ideas? Anyone?

Posted by pjm at 9:24 PM | Comments (2)

Bringing politics home

My family had an interesting discussion this afternoon which started with The Pink Ladies’ (my nieces’) fondness for all things Barbie. We talked about brands and marketing and how such a large fraction of the price tag of certain items comes from the money the companies spend on making you (or, in this discussion, The Pink Ladies) want them.

For a moment, I thought I caught my New England Conservative aunt echoing Naomi Klein. I was practically bemused right out of the conversation.

Now Playing: Gameday

Posted by pjm at 8:48 PM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2004

Work and the elections

E-mail just went around announcing that our company is offering a paid day off on the second of November, “for anyone interested in assisting in transportation to the polls, or performing other support functions needed at the polls.”

It came with this caveat, though:

Remember, fish are not eligible to vote and the polls are not located at the mall.

Posted by pjm at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2004

According to his means

The acupuncture therapist (I’m not ready to call him “doctor” except as a term of address) has a very interesting pay scale. He has a flat rate which applies to the initial appointment, but all follow-ups (like this morning’s) are on the scale. It works like this: you start with a base rate for office visits. Next you have a grid, with annual incomes on the left side and dependents across the top (“how many people are supported by this income,” or something like that; somehow I drop into the terminology of the Infernal Revenue Service here.) You find your place on the grid (since I have no dependents, other than one demanding but relatively inexpensive cat, I am in the far left column) and there’s a discount percentage there. You take that off the base rate, and pay the remainder.

Now, I figure that I do relatively well for myself, but I was surprised at how well I’d need to be doing in order to pay full fare on this chart.

It’s an honor-system process; you look at the grid, “request” a discount on a sheet with no supporting evidence, and sign your name. You’d think this would be a dangerous business practice, and it probably would be if, for instance, they ran the register this way down at the packie. But he’s run his practice this way for nearly thirty years, and he’s clearly making the rent. Basic honesty is holding it up; he trusts his patients and says so, therefore they’re straight with him. But even if honesty wasn’t there, I expect pride would back it up.

Now playing: Nothing (Lifestyle Of A Tortured Artist For Sale) from Dandys Rule OK by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 8:05 PM | Comments (0)

Is anyone not thinking about baseball?

It seems like half the town is walking around with a silly grin. I feel a bit bad for the company president, an unabashed Yankees fan (“I don’t think I can work here anymore,” exclaimed a co-worker when she found this out,) but not too bad considering the last, uh, decade or so. I think Julie had the word: schadenfreuderiffic.

From the dissatisfied ruckus Iz was making this morning, we wondered initially if he was, perhaps, a Yankees fan. He does, after all, wear stripes, and at his tender age he’s never seen them win a Series. On more careful reflection, though, we decided he would probably prefer the Tigers, or perhaps the White Sox.

I will now join the rest of New England in making, “Maybe this is the year” noises.

Now Playing: Attitude from All Shook Down by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 11:02 AM | Comments (2)

October 20, 2004

Maybe then I would get cable

I’ve never watched enough TV to be a Jon Stewart fan. Maybe now I should be. “A plague on both your houses,” indeed. I’m particularly tickled by his response to the “you’re not being funny” charge; it reminded me of Winston Churchill.

Woman at dinner: “Mr. Churchill, you are drunk.”
Churchill: “Yes, madam, and you are ugly. But in the morning, I will be sober.”

Now Playing: Solid from Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 2:58 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2004

Some things never change

I’m re-reading another book—Lydia Bailey by Kenneth Roberts, a hardcover first edition which was my tangible inheritance from my paternal grandfather. Roberts was strongly opinionated, to the point of being caustic, and bowed to no sacred cows; to my knowledge, he was (and probably still is) the only American writer to write a historical novel about the American Revolution from the perspective of a Loyalist, (“Tory,”) Oliver Wiswell, apparently the only one of his books which Down East Books is not keeping in print. His argument at the time was that a great many of the colonies’ best and brightest had chosen to remain loyal to the King and, in many cases, had suffered for it, so there must have been some merit to their case.

At any rate, when I opened Lydia Bailey I was stunned by the opening paragraphs, which (with some updates) are as true now as when Roberts wrote it, and as they presumably were when his narrator, Albion Hamlin, started his tale (which took him from Portland to Boston, Haiti, and Tripoli) in 1800:

I’m not over-enthusiastic about books that teach or preach, but I may as well admit in the beginning that my primary reason for writing this book was to teach as many as possible of those who come after me how much hell and ruin are inevitably brought on innocent people and innocent countries by men who make a virtue of consistency.

All the great villains and small villains whom I met so frequently in the events I’m about to set down were consistent men—unimaginative men who consistently believed in war as a means of settling disputes between nations; equally misguided men who consistently believed that war must be avoided at all hazards, no matter what the provocation; narrow men who consistently upheld the beliefs and acts of one political party and saw no good in any other; shortsighted men who consistently refused to see that the welfare of their own nation was dependent on the welfare of every other nation; ignorant men who consistently thought that the policies of their own government should be supported and followed, whether those policies were right or wrong; dangerous men who consistently thought that all people with black skins are inferior to those with white skins […] And I know that any nation that cannot or will not avoid the dreadful pitfalls of consistency will be one with the dead empires whose crumbling monuments studded our battlegrounds in Haiti and in Africa.

Posted by pjm at 9:07 PM | Comments (0)

I want one

An article in Wired News today describes the TV-B-Gone, a key-fob-sized “universal remote” which simply runs through about two hundred “power off” codes for a wide variety of televisions. Through the course of the article, the developer and his friends are turning off distracting TVs in waiting rooms, restaurants, etc. It’s delightful.

[Inventor] Altman said he prefers to ask people to turn off TVs. The problem is places where there’s a captive audience and no one is available to respond to requests, like the Laundromat or the airport. Altman said he has turned off sets at his local laundries and at airports around the Pacific Rim.

…Responding to the accusation that it sounded like unaccountable power, [user David] Burke said, “You’ve heard about the battle for eyeballs. They’re your eyeballs. You should not have your consciousness constantly invaded. Television people are getting better and better at finding ways of roping us into TV where we can’t get away.”

Now Playing: Which Way Should I Jump? from Slinky by milltown brothers

Posted by pjm at 9:40 AM | Comments (3)

October 18, 2004

Bostonians with principles

I only saw a little of last night’s Sox game, but there was one priceless moment.

Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer into the Green Monster seats. As he made his way back to the dugout, play over, the fan who retrieved the ball threw it back on the field.

The Sox left-fielder threw the ball back into the stands. He wanted no part of it.

The fans threw it back. Again.

League series, what league series? It was a Yankee home run in Fenway Park. Nobody wanted that ball.

Me, well… having grown up with the Sox, I’m too cynical to make any “this could be the year” noises. I’ve ceased expecting World Series appearances the way Yankee fans do. But I cheer for two baseball teams: the Sox, and whoever’s playing the Yankees.

Now Playing: Personal from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2004

Where the streets have no name

Someone has stolen our sign again. This last sign made it several weeks. I have to imagine the town is getting a little frustrated. Either that or they have about sixty signs for this street in a closet somewhere.

But it’s comforting to know there’s always someone with worse problems.

Posted by pjm at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2004

That doesn't look like a Grady-White

This is, I should add, a massive in-joke.

Lobster boat in Bass Harbor, ME

Now playing: What Do You Hear In These Sounds from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 7:38 PM | Comments (1)

You may be looking for...

It hasn’t happened lately, but due to the title of this site, I get a fair number of people finding it in searches for “panic” or various permutations. Obviously, this site isn’t a resource for panic disorder; it’s named from one of my favorite quotes, and deals pretty much exclusively with garden-variety, non-clinical panic.

If you wound up here by looking for something else, try these sites:

(I also see a fair number of people searching for “flashes” of various sorts; however, I don’t feel bad at all about misguiding them.)

Now Playing: Nightingale Song from Fear by Toad The Wet Sprocket

Posted by pjm at 3:13 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2004

Turning, and turning out

The sign in front of Annie’s this noon noted that tomorrow is the last day to register to vote in the November election, in Commonwealth of MA. (Why I end up living in commonwealths, I’ll never understand; I prefer the sound of “Great State of…” much more.)

After hearing the reports of voter turnout in Afghanistan, and seeing the degree to which everyone I know seems to be exercised about the coming presidential race, I’m going to be sorely disappointed if we, as a nation, don’t top the 51% turnout we had in 2000. (Yes, you only needed to persuade less than a quarter of registered voters to turn out and vote for you in order to become president.)

I’m glad, actually, that I’m in a state so solidly partisan that we’re not the focus of a barrage of campaigning. The roadsides of Maine are thoroughly sprinkled with signs for local and national races in a way we’re not seeing here. Since I don’t watch television, I can’t be sure if they’re getting more drivel on the idiot box than we are. But that’s four electoral votes. Four. There has to be a better way.

Behind all the political litter, the foliage is spectacular in a literal way. From Cadillac Moutain, you could look west to Sargent Mountain and see red and orange trees creeping up the sheltered folds of the otherwise rocky dome. Here in the Connecticut Valley, not two hundred yards from Annie’s there was a car pulled over while the driver snapped a shot of a blazing-bright field with Mt. Toby beginning to change in the background. I remind myself to look up from the signs at the ephemeral posters autumn is putting up, as the broad-leaved trees cash in their summer investments and hope they saved enough for the winter. Is it too early to anticipate sugaring season?

Now Playing: “Not Fazed” from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:04 PM | Comments (1)

Closed for the season

That’s a concept that seems somehow self-fulfilling to me. I’d say well over half the storefronts on the west side of MDI had a sign along those lines in the window this past weekend.

In their defense, it makes all kinds of sense. Why head in to the store and spend the day there when you’ll barely have enough customers to make it worth it?

On the other hand, it seems like one of the reasons there are no customers is that everything’s closed! We saw plenty of hotels with the “No vacancy” sign lit, and the trails around Great Head and Cadillac Mountain were crowded enough. In fact, downtown Bar Harbor (where nearly everything was open, of course) was so crowded it made me shudder to contemplate what it must be like in the summer.

Hmm… no sysadmin jobs open at Jackson Labs right now. (Or MBNA, for that matter.)

Posted by pjm at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2004

Tales from the car

I can report now with some certainty that it is possible to ride the Pelham Road from just past its start at the Pelham Historical Society on Route 202 (at which point it is, of course, named the Amherst Road) nearly to its end at East Street in Amherst, with the clutch in all the way, assuming one has the requisite lack of… maturity, I suppose. There was a touchy spot just past the reservoir when my speed dropped to around 20 MPH, but once the road started down again, I knew I was home free. That’s one bit of curiosity satisfied.

A road-killed turkey is unlike any other roadkill.

The reek of Post Road Pumpkin Ale in the kitchen has nothing whatever to do with the above anecdotes, but with a number of bottles leaving their carrier through the bottom, rather than the top as expected.

Posted by pjm at 9:57 PM | Comments (0)

October 9, 2004

Inside information?

Last night I was sitting in the traffic at the Hampton tolls in New Hampshire. Normally, I’d be impatient, but I’d just finished listening to the Sox finish their divisional series sweep on AM radio, so I was well-disposed towards the world.

Off to my right I saw a curious truck. It looked like a flatbed, but the bed was about two feet thick, with gates around the sides of the deck. When I figured out that the contraptions on top of the bed were dogsleds and the “bed” was a series of kennels, I wondered if perhaps he knew something about the weather forecast in Maine that I didn’t.

Posted by pjm at 9:44 PM | Comments (0)

October 8, 2004

Indeterminate manifesto

When I arrived at the gym to swim this morning, there was an orange flyer on the door announcing in block letters, YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR ABS.

I got a grin out of this one; it struck me as typical of the deconstruction attitude, because it didn’t really replace the idea it destroyed. I imagined the hapless borderline-obsessive fitness-center-goer dumbstruck in front of the sign, thinking, “They’re right! I am more than my abs! I’m a mathematician! I’m a cook! I’m a musician!”

I also imagined the hard-core athlete, walking past and thinking dismissively, “Well, duh. I’m biceps, triceps, quadriceps, lats, pecs, trapezius, etc. etc….”

At some point in my swim, the thought, “Someone’s gotta tell Men’s Health…” crossed my mind.

When I left, I saw the sign had been moved to the front of the assistant football coach’s desk, so whatever the intentions of the sign-poster, the athletic department seems to be going with my second interpretation.

Now playing: Buffalo from Hologram of Baal by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:54 AM | Comments (0)

October 7, 2004

When audience size matters

When I write up big day-reports like yesterday’s, it doesn’t really matter to me how many people read it. When I note things like Johnny Kelley’s passing, I’m mainly writing to the people I know are reading and wouldn’t get the news elsewhere; incidental people are just gravy.

But sometimes I want to post something like, “spamd wants to work nine to five like everyone else, even though it’s software. It crashes every time I leave the building. How do I go about troubleshooting it?” And I wish the odds were better that someone reading would know the answer.

Now playing: You’re Aging Well from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 2:57 PM | Comments (3)

October 6, 2004

Easing in to the pool

I am sitting on a bench in front of the EECS department of a university to which I (tentatively) plan to apply for graduate study. I am something like 45 minutes early for an appointment to talk to a professor who has much to recommend him. I have gone in, walked around, and felt like I was somehow interrupting something. In a few minutes I will need to go back in and talk to someone in the department office in the name of extracting useful information. I could wish that leeching bandwidth from an open wireless network would be all the introduction I would need, but alas, I will need to actually walk in, introduce myself with face and name, and demand time from an actual person. Who knew that this would be the hard part.

I took a campus tour with a bunch of prospective undergrads. That was a waste of time; I’ll know better now. I found a father who was there without his daughter (she toured with her mother, earlier, and he was bringing himself up to date) and we stood in the back and discussed the relevance or irrelevance of the information being fed to us. (On-campus housing, for example, is of no interest whatever to me, though it was to him.) I was reminded, painfully, of the inane babble I myself had produced as a tour guide, lo these many years ago; I spent some time considering the things which appear important on tours which then prove to have so little relevance in the actual college experience. The woman who walked us around apparently belonged to the Fraternity of Long-Haired Blondes, since she waved “hi” to nearly every one she saw.

Near the library I picked up thirty-one cents in change which had apparently fallen out of someone’s pocket as they sat on the grass. One of the campus traditions has to do with exams and the placement of pennies at a particular spot on a particular statue. When I’m done here, I will pass the statue on my way to the graduate admissions office. I plan to leave at least a nickel.

Posted by pjm at 2:03 PM | Comments (1)

October 5, 2004

Just one more pint

I avoided giving blood for a while when I was running well. Supposedly it takes about two weeks to replace the plasma, and that’s time I couldn’t be running close to the red line, so I didn’t do it. I felt guilty, though.

I can’t claim that I enjoy donating. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not, and in either case I don’t find puncture wounds any more fun for being voluntary. I had one or two incidents in Pennsylvania where I was almost the one they threw back. I don’t mind the sight of my own blood, but the needle in my arm gives me chills.

Two things bring me back. First, when I was in high school, the biology teacher was a veteran and took blood drives seriously. He had his seniors in the AP course (which I didn’t take, but my brother did) organize one every year, and somewhere along the line he hit just the right notes to make it the expected thing to do: I was proud to be able to go down and roll up my sleeve. I suppose I was proud to make the minimum weight, in those days; I also had some determination to take on anything my brother had already been doing for two years. (Fortunately, I outgrew that determination before he acquired daughters.)

Beyond that, though, my grandfather was a determined and active volunteer with the Red Cross for as long as I could remember, teaching CPR courses and whatever else they needed him for. I guess I thought he might be keeping an eye on me, and I don’t think there are many cases even now where navigating by my grandfathers’ examples is a bad idea. Even now, I can’t make it through a blood drive without thinking of him, and I can’t miss one without making a mental promise to him that I’ll make the next one, really.

So yesterday I walked around the stations at a church in South Amherst and produced another packet which I’m diligently trying to replace now. This one was pretty easy—the needle insertion was, as always, a bit of a drag, but I finished my packet in good time. The next bed over was going at a pretty good rate as well; the attendant exclaimed, “Wow, you guys are bleeding like… like…”

I finished for her. “Like we didn’t intend to?”

Now playing: Just Try from Dandys Rule OK by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

October 1, 2004

We subdivide well

I’m always impressed at this office’s skill in splitting up baked goods. Doughnuts, cookies, you name it, if there’s a plate near the coffee pot, one or more of them will have been somehow partitioned.

Granted, the occasional cake, or today’s large cinnamon rolls, probably require this. But I think the height was reached the time I saw a single muffin on the counter which had been neatly sectioned into eight slices. Three of them were missing.

Now playing: All One To Me from Tomorrow by James

Posted by pjm at 3:05 PM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2004

Making the connections

It turns out that there’s two kinds of “difficult” about this graduate school application thing. There’s “difficult,” as in, “this is going to take some time to sit down and plug away at.” And there’s “difficult,” as in, “I really don’t feel at all comfortable doing this.”

There seems to be a lot more of the second one than the first. It’s stuff I first heard from an acquaintance who is a CS professor at the College, and had underlined when I talked to the Career office there last week: with my unusual academic preparation, I’m going to need to contact people in the departments I want to study with, talking with them (face to face talking, not “talking” by email,) and find out if they think I’ve got a chance of staying afloat. Actually, I need to convince them that I will stay afloat if they give me a chance; I should also be using these discussions to get a feel for whether I’m likely to enjoy spending a few years in the department.

I also need to ask other people to spend a chunk of their time writing me letters of recommendation. I’ve asked three, two have agreed, one hasn’t responded. I have two others to ask.

I’m profoundly bad at this.

Not at talking to people; I talk just fine, once I get started. Sometimes I don’t stop when I should, actually. It’s making the contact, figuring out who at the department I should be talking with (and sometimes the department appears to be trying to avoid this sort of conversation,) then actually making the appointment and walking in their office. I will procrastinate all of these steps endlessly. I think I could even say I dread them. I don’t know why.

I don’t even particularly like talking to people on the phone, for some reason. I’d vastly prefer email, where I’m in control of my end of the conversation. When you come right down to it, look at this site: this whole thing is the appearance of sharing my life and thoughts while retaining full control over what I really tell you all. Some of you who’ve commented and whose weblogs I’ve read, I’d probably do all right with, but if someone reading this, who I don’t know in any other context, was to approach me “on the street” and initiate a conversation about the site, I would probably be profoundly uncomfortable for a few minutes. (Unless you got me wound up on one of my hot-button topics, in which case I’d forget that I didn’t know you while I unloaded my thoughts on the matter, and you glanced around uncomfortably looking for an escape route.)

I’m not at all crippled by this, of course; I talk to strange people on the phone every day when they call with software problems. I’m actually fairly good at it. I’ve learned that when the call comes, if I just reach over and punch the button and start talking, I’m fine. If I step off the pool deck and plunge right in, I’m ready to start swimming.

But these pseudo-interview contacts are excruciating because I can put them off.

I need to stop.

I need to make a real nag out of myself, in fact, because I can’t do this by myself, and the sooner it happens, the better. Deadlines are coming within a fairly small number of months. I should set a goal, like having at least two, possibly three arranged by the end of this week.

Update, Thursday 9/30: Got a third LOR agreement, a lead on who to talk to at one school, and an appointment (!!) at another. I still need another appointment!

Now playing: The Time Being from Somewhere Else by The Church

Posted by pjm at 1:04 PM | Comments (2)

September 23, 2004

Name it well

I got mail today addressed to “Amhurst, MA,” which amused me. This, I thought to myself, is what comes of pronouncing the “h,” an affectation, I baselessly suspect, of those who fancy themselves “born to the broad A and flattened R” of Harvard, as Kenneth Roberts put it. (In fairness to that institution, the stereotype fit much better in Roberts’ day, ninety years ago, than it does now. And when my father and I get going in our native dialect, we broaden and flatten a heck of a lot more than As and Rs.)

On the other hand, it might just indicate an ignorance of the details of North American history. If you’d never heard of the man who had towns named after him in more than one northeastern colony (New York and New Hampshire as well,) it would be perfectly reasonable to assume we’re a “hurst” like all the others, albeit with a very short prefix.

Now playing: Free Will from Night Opens by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2004

Frog across the pond

Nicole has made her first posts from France. If you weren’t already following the Frog Blog, now is when it gets interesting.

Now playing: Paris from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

I took myself to the cinema
and mostly closed my eyes
but every now and then I paid attention
and every now and then there was
a word I understood
I got the joke
and I wrote it down, and put it on a postcard
and sent it to you.

Posted by pjm at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)

September 20, 2004

Data point

I just spent fifteen minutes or so answering questions for these folks. Given how I’d prefer to spend my evenings, I want no grief from anyone if you don’t like the way the results come out.

Posted by pjm at 8:04 PM | Comments (0)

Cycles within cycles

It’s probably just a coincidence that, on either side of a weekend of deliberately upsetting my sleep cycles, I’m renaming figures from a chronobiology book. (Per the glossary: chronobiology: the study, at all levels of organization, of adaptations evolved by living organisms to cope with regularly occurring environmental cycles.)

We’ve done this for three years, now, but for the first two years I was in Van 1. This year I was driving Van 2. With a twelve-person team and six runners in each van, the vans have three on-off cycles in the course of the race. Van 1 is on-off-on-off-on-off; Van 2 is off-on-off-on-off-on.

We’ve always started within an hour of noon, and usually both vans have finished their first shift not long after dark. The second shifts are entirely in the dark, and usually the sun rises on the last leg of the second shift or the first leg of the third shift.

If you’re in Van 1, this means you run in the afternoon, then “stay up late” for your second shift (about 8 PM to 1 AM) and “get up early” (dawn) for your third shift. In Van 2, on the other hand, you run in the afternoon, try to get your night’s sleep early, run through your deepest sleep hours, and then wait all morning for your last run.

Psychologically, you’re also antsy much of the afternoon waiting to get started, where Van 1 starts when the race starts, and is “done” much sooner.

The trade-off, of course, is that Van 2 gets to run the last legs from Kingston down to Rye and Hampton. After wandering like damned souls through the back roads and hills in the darkness and rain, bombing along the beaches with the wind at your back is nothing short of exhilarating.

Now playing: Drive Away from Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 5:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2004

The magnifying effect of silence

At around 10 PM on Friday night, I found myself walking slowly, in my socks, down a darkened corridor of the New Hampshire Technical College in Laconia. Both sides of the corridor were already lined with sleeping bodies—or sleeping bags, at least, and some of them were snoring—so I walked slowly and willed my eyes to get used to the faint light provided by the “exit” signs at either end of the corridor, praying I wouldn’t kick someone by accident.

My shoes were off because they were damp, and squeaked when I walked on the tile. In the snoring darkness I was as loud as an ambulance, so off they came. I undid my ground pad and unstuffed my sleeping bag hoping I wasn’t waking too many people. Then I tried to sleep.

Nearly immediately I discovered the crucial element I’d forgotten to pack: good earplugs. It was so quiet, I heard everything. Whispers. People who hadn’t been as considerate about their shoes, even though theirs weren’t as squeaky as mine. Every so often there would be a wave of whispers, zippers, swishing nylon, and sighing air pads as a team would assemble their members and set off for their next shift. I cursed them all in my mind, then reminded myself that if I really wanted sleep, I should be letting go of these things rather than letting them consume me.

I lay there for nearly two hours, and in hindsight I probably slept for most of that time; I only remember the times I woke up. (For most of that night, I was only aware of waking up, never sleeping.) When I finally gave in and gathered my own stuff, only two people remained in the corridor, and they were also packing up.

As we assembled our van again, I discovered that one of my teammates had never made it farther than the lounge where the Red Sox game was on. He hadn’t slept at all. And yet, though he said the crowd watching the game had been pretty raucous, there were people sleeping in there as well. Maybe I just needed to be more tired.

Posted by pjm at 5:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2004

Romping around New Hampshire

Wow. That was remarkably damp. Even more so than in 2002.

My sleep-deprived brain is currently seeing any roadside reflectors as the bobbing headlights of approaching runners. I drive my little Civic like a fifteen-passenger van (and I’m startled at how well it handles.)

I think the representative moment was the Girl Scout at the New Hampshire Technical College in Laconia who was simply wandering around the cafeteria room asking anyone and everyone if she could help. Since I never saw her actually helping anyone, I expect we all felt like I did: in the face of her open willingness to pitch in, what little things confused our clouded minds (finding water hot enough to make tea, for example) seemed too little to burden her with. We wanted to give her a worthy project, like world peace, or directing traffic in the parking lot.

Now, a real bed for the first time in a while.

Posted by pjm at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2004

To keep you amused

…while I’m “romping around New Hampshire” this weekend (not my words), I’ll offer some participatory entertainment. Caption this photograph. Put your best ideas in the comments. Standard Flashes of Panic prize for the best one. Multiple entries welcome, void where prohibited, not liable for whatever, all rights reserved, do not bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate, etc. etc.

No prompts from me, but I will post the photographer’s original caption(s) when I get back.

Now playing: Road Buddy from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 3:58 PM | Comments (9)

Adventures in packaging

In case I doubted that our authors were heavily emotionally invested in their work, today we got a new master for one of our CD-ROM titles. Starting from the outside and working in, we had:

  • The FedEx envelope, containing…
  • …a padded envelope, within which was…
  • …two pieces of cardboard, taped in a sandwich around…
  • …an envelope of relatively rigid bubble wrap, which held…
  • …two pieces of flimsy bubble wrap, wrapped around…
  • …the CD case…

…which actually held the disk.

I can’t believe I’m just letting it sit on my desk.

Now playing: Butterflies from Fear by Toad The Wet Sprocket

Posted by pjm at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2004

On the moon

I am piecing together everything I will need this weekend. Tomorrow, after work, it’s in to Boston to rendezvous with the team. Friday we drive up to Bretton Woods to start Reach the Beach; I expect I’ll be driving Van 2 through the night and well into Saturday. (If you’re going, look for Dead Man Running.) I don’t know why I think checking in here will help my distracted state. Maybe it won’t.

I’m never sure how to pack for this. It’s two days, essentially, but two very unusual days. We’re carrying our “house” with us in vans, but there will be eight of us in each van, so overpacking is not a good thing. Will I need the sleeping bag? I almost hope so. Maps? Book? Music? How much clothes?

I have little faith in the iPod’s battery over the length of the trip, and I’m not sure I’ll always have priority on the power jack, so I put in a CD player and a set of discs. Much as I love the music itself, as I get in to the lyrics of a song I find I like it more, so I sat down and read the lyrics to the Nields sisters’ latest (I owe you for them, Wendy) and came across the song Nerissa wrote for the third sister, Abigail’s, wedding. Without a “now playing,” it does very well.

You tell me we’re not there yet
But someday we might be
The closer that I let you get
The farther I can see

Don’t let me forget
Don’t let me assume
Promise what we haven’t done yet
Kiss me on the moon.

— from Nerissa Nields, “Kiss Me On The Moon”; more

Posted by pjm at 9:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2004

Misconceptions misconception

Kasia wanted to clear some things up about geeks. In most cases I agree (Star Trek: I don’t get it; T-shirts: all mine are from races) but I would like to correct one of her misconceptions.

  • Geeks can fix things.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha — that’s all I’m going to say on the issue.

Well, yes. Geeks can fix things. Like just tonight, when A.’s WinXP Home machine wouldn’t go online. It does now, and it would not have happened without a geek, because Bog knows that was a troubling, obscure, and downright twisted fix.

Here’s what the non-geek would’ve had to figure out, once they’d cleared away all the dead wood (and after nearly three years, there’s plenty of that):

  • The network hardware was fine.
  • The network setup was fine.
  • However, the system wasn’t getting DHCP settings.
  • Because the DHCP Client service wasn’t launching.
  • Because it thought it had a dependency.

There’s the sticking point… so I googled the error, “Could not start the DHCP Client service on Local Computer”, and found a helpful page explaining that this sometimes happens when you uninstall Norton Anti-Virus (which I’d done, since the signatures hadn’t been updated in about two years, and replaced it with AVG.) A “quick” registry edit (as if any registry edit is ever “quick”, and why should there be such a godawful complicated train wreck as a “registry” that needs such a Rube Goldbergian editor?) and we’re online quite nicely, thanks.

I fix other things, too, when they’re enough of a problem that I care to.

Now playing: Shiver from Parachutes by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 10:31 PM | Comments (4)

September 13, 2004

Small things not important enough for whole posts

(But nonetheless worth posting, of course.)

Tom has noticed that the Sox are on fire and have a good chance of being in the playoffs, and raises the obvious question. My answer: what with the current state of the world today (which I will charitably characterize as “tense,”) not to mention various climatological issues down in the South…I think if the Sox make the Series, we should all seriously consider stockpiling canned food. Isn’t that one of the warning signs?

If I die at a young age of food poisoning, it will be because of an ingrained habit of licking the beaters clean when I’m done with the mixer. Thanks, Mom. (And thanks for telling me which cookbook the good banana bread recipe is in.)

I’m not sure which worries me more: RFC 1149 (the “Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol”, for those of you who won’t click on a link given only a TLA and a number) or the fact that it has been implemented.

Posted by pjm at 9:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2004

Foot update

I can’t get up right now without disturbing the cat who is napping (such a cliché) between my feet.

So I’ll bring those few interested in my plantar fasciitis progress up to date. For the beginning, I described the problem back in June; since then, I’ve been sent by a podiatrist to get an ultrasound, which was inconclusive, and to two months of physical therapy, which was helpful but not a solution.

While I’ve added some stuff to my list of what I’ve tried, I’ve also changed my list of what I haven’t tried. At yesterday’s physical therapy appointment, the PT admitted that there wasn’t much more they could do for me, and suggested I try both of the first two on the list.

  • New orthotics (yet another pair)
  • Acupuncture
  • ESWT
  • Release surgery
  • Amputation

It’s likely to take a while for me to get through the list, of course. I got the names of two different acupuncturists, one of which came highly recommended by one of our better local runners. I’ll call his office on Monday. My “primary care physician” is also a runner (though he emphasizes that he’s not as serious as I am—nowadays, I wonder.) He wanted to send me to a particular orthopod for orthotics quite a while ago; I need to call him, as well, and get the name and number.

Orthotics aren’t a solution for PF; they can mitigate the problem, but not solve it. I’m hoping the acupuncture will help with that, but I’ve also heard that acupuncture is most effective with PF at the onset of the problem, and perhaps not so good with as resistant a problem as mine. We’ll see. I’m also told that ESWT is not recommended except for really tough cases, and I’m now in this twilight area where I can (generally) walk without pain, but not run.

In the meantime, I’m still in the pool. Today there was a crowd of rowers taking turns swimming two lengths and treading water for some fixed time in order to practice on the water. I can’t say that shows great confidence in their skills on the part of the coach. On the other hand, if they were all novices, he must be doing something right. He probably had four eights there, maybe three after attrition. They look smaller than the rowers did in my day, but perhaps we did too. (The runners, on the other hand, look stronger than they did in my day.)

Posted by pjm at 10:21 PM | Comments (4)

Good things about being a so-called adult

Second installment in an occasional series…

If you’re complaining about the price of the alcohol you just bought, either you’re drinking too much or your guests aren’t coming to your party for reasons you’d like, if you thought about it.

Posted by pjm at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 9, 2004

Disregard of scheduling

I’ve really got a lousy track record of picking auto-body shops. The one I went to in March told me to bring it in for a week, and kept it for three(!). So I didn’t go back to them for this job; I found another. This one is now on its third day with a job which I (given the parts) could have done myself in an afternoon. It’s one piece of shaped plastic, for pity’s sake, and it’s held on with clips and sheet-metal screws. This is not neuroscience. “We need the adjustor to take another look at it,” they told me this morning. The insurance adjustor? What, did they smack it again?

Are they just exceptionally out of touch with how long the job is really going to take them? When I dropped it off, they thought they could have it done in a day, or maybe it would run into a second day if they had to mix paint to match. (Guess what: they had to mix paint.)

Or do they only work when I call them? (The shop in March, after having the car for a week, finally admitted that they’d only just had the parts in; the car had sat idle for a week in their lot.)

And, on that note, something else they have in common: neither shop will call me and tell me what’s going on, even when they’ve promised to (or, as this morning, “He’s on another line, I’ll have him call you back as soon as he’s free…”.) I have to call them, or it’s silence. (Before I die, body shops will have web feeds for each car’s record in their in-shop database.)

Note for next time: don’t just sign over the insurance check when you drop off the car. Pay the minimum deposit and don’t give the garage another cent until they’ve done the work. Right now they have both the car and the money, and other than nagging them (and/or reporting the lousy service to both the insurance company and the mechanics who recommended them; I did that with the March shop,) I don’t have much of a lever to move them with.

Now playing: Fix Me Now from Garbage by Garbage

Posted by pjm at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

September 5, 2004

Something in the water

There is a particular taste to tea made at my parents’ house. I suppose it is the iron in the water, but the limestone that eventually killed our water-heater in Pennsylvania never gave my tea much flavor.

I find it odd that this matters more than the actual tea; I could be drinking “church tea” and it would still come through. (“Church tea” is the label attached to Red Rose, Salada and the like by a friend, because it was the sort of tea you’d find in fifty-count boxes next to a giant urn of coffee in a church basement.)

Posted by pjm at 8:32 AM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2004

Shoveling manure

I’d really rather not discuss Microsoft, Windows, or the worm which occupied my entire working day as I cleared it off several different systems (roughly, one department.)

I’d rather discuss the worm author, and the fantasies I had about meeting him. But since they involved fingers, toes, a sledgehammer and a splitting maul, perhaps I’d best not share here.

Now playing: Tomorrow from Demolition by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 8:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2004

My ears are ringing

Something’s wrong with our phone system. Usually incoming calls ring only at the front desk, and are then patched through. Today, every call is ringing on every phone. And it’s ringing quite frequently.

I had no idea we got this many calls. Nor did I realize how remarkably distracting and unnerving it is to have the phone ring so often.

Now playing: He’s Got An Answer from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2004

Warning label

When doing laundry, putting the laundry bag in with the rest of the wash is not necessarily a bad idea.

However, caution should be exercised in also running it through the dryer, since that might lead to difficulty getting the rest of the laundry into the newly-shrunk bag.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 PM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2004

Crunch

I haven’t even had the car back for six months, and I got smacked from behind this evening leaving a parking lot. Not entirely his fault, I suppose; I started, then saw an oncoming car and stopped again. And got tapped. Fortunately for him, not enough to trip his airbags. Either way, as the insurance companies see it, it’s not my fault.

(It’s very hard to be at fault when you’re hit from behind, even when you get whacked like my brother did and get driven in to the car in front of you.)

Unfortunately, this won’t further my goal to replace every major body panel; all I’ll need replaced (unless the frame is munged, which I doubt) is the plastic piece around the rear bumper, which is scratched, cracked and detached in such a way that it will not pass inspection.

I am becoming a poor bet for my insurance company, though this one probably won’t result in them actually cutting a check.

Posted by pjm at 9:45 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2004

Close-mouthed

I have not been chattering as much as usual lately.

I am not apologetic about this, but I will offer a little justification. First, it’s been busy around here. Second, I think I’ve been getting a little more selective about which thoughts make it to “published” posts. There’s a growing bin of unfinished drafts accumulating in ecto, and while I recycle some of the ideas, most of them will probably never be finished.

I’d like to think that’s a symptom of maturity, but I suspect it’s just that I’m too lazy to do the work required to make them interesting.

Now playing: Burning Photographs from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 1:52 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2004

Between the hurricanes

When it’s this humid, you can hang your towels out as long as you want—they’re not going to dry. Might even get wetter.

I think I will bathe in Deet and wander around Mt. Tom for a little while…

Now playing: Wish You Were Here from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2004

Best dorms

Christina commented asking about the best dorms at Amherst College, because she’s been assigned to Pratt and found me through a web search (which found, I assume, my post about dorm construction at the College.) She didn’t leave an email address, and this is too long for another comment.

The obvious answer should be, “The best dorm is the one you’re in,” of course.

When I was a first-year (over a decate ago, thanks, so most of my information is dated) my girlfriend lived in a triple in Pratt. (Note: Apparently the dorm I know as “Pratt” is “Morris Pratt,” and there’s a “Charles Pratt” dorm due to be created from the building which used to be the Geology building, and was the gym before that.) Back then, Pratt was a mixed-class dorm, and singles went to very lucky juniors, or seniors who got the shaft in Room Draw. (Aside from the Prince Albert suite, which went to the ranking RC.) But with James and Stearns leveled this summer, I believe Pratt will be entirely first-years. I suspect the majority of your class will be in Pratt, so it won’t be quite a fractured a world as it was when I was there. Leave your door open in the single, and you won’t have any trouble at all.

In my day, first-years were assigned either to one of the three first-year dorms (James, Stearns and Valentine had over half my class) or one of the four mixed-class dorms (North, South, Pratt and Morrow.) I think they’ve done away with mixed-class housing, which is a good thing in my view; I recommended exactly that after being an RC in South for a year.

So, probably half your class will be in the newly-renovated North and South, which could be pretty cool. I lived two years in South, and it was a long way from my favorite dorm, but since the renovation they should be much better. I’m not sure if they’re putting first-years in Appleton and Williston yet, but they will eventually. The rest of you will be in Pratt, maybe Morrow, and probably Valentine. Morrow is the mystery dorm: lots of singles, great central location, no soul. Despite being in the middle of everything, the people who lived in Morrow were those who wanted quiet.

Pratt is due for renovation once the new James and Stearns are completed, and I suspect unless they’ve done some significant work in the last ten years it has some significant, uh, funkiness. (Don’t leave food anywhere that’s not ant-proof.) It can be a bit of a warren (the floor plan is very complex) but the singles are usually on the north/south ends of the building, and you’ll have triples right outside your door. Plenty of friends.

I think Pratt’s in a very good location on campus—close to the dining hall, close to the library, close to some of the classrooms, close to Converse and the five-college bus. It could be a PITA as far as the gym, Merrill, and the ACC in SMudd, but if I can walk to the gym from my apartment, undergraduates can walk to the gym from Pratt without sympathy from me, even in January.

Personally, I think Moore is the best dorm, possibly exceeded by Garman (though an argument could be made for Chapman) but as far as I know it’s still only for upperclassmen. We were the second group in room-draw going in to my senior year, and half of us picked Moore. Of course, it was the first dorm to have every room wired for ethernet…

Let me know how it works out.

(There are pictures of most of these buildings at the Campus virtual tour, but the photo which claims to be of Moore is actually Converse, so I’m not sure how much to trust it.)

Now playing: Answering Machine from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 2:56 PM | Comments (2)

If I had to do it again...

Not that I don’t like the name of this site, but every so often I trip over a name that would work pretty well if I wasn’t using this one.

For instance:

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

I’ll leave the interpretation for others, but I notice that while killthebuddha.com is registered, killthebuddha.net is not.

Now playing: Junk Bond Trader from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

August 9, 2004

Backup alarm

There are two wake-up alarms by my bed. The first is a clock radio, which can be set to play at any hour. The second, somewhat more complex alarm is striped, with claws and teeth, and starts trying to wake me up when (1) he’s hungry, and (2) there’s a hint of light in the sky.

While the first alarm is limited to what noises are available on the radio (I set it to NPR since radio “morning shows” tend to set my teeth on edge too early in the morning,) it does have a predictable “snooze” button.

The striped alarm has a wide range of stimulation modes, both audio (from meows to purrs) and tactile (licking my face, pouncing on my feet, gently biting anything sticking out from under the covers.) This morning I dreamed there were crickets in my room, but they were red, only slightly smaller than shoes, had claws like lobsters, and would nip my legs at the slightest provocation. Once I woke up I realized the “crickets” were a combination of birds chirping outside, the alarm pouncing on my legs with claws through the quilt, and… I don’t know what the visual was, and I’m not sure I want to.

The striped alarm’s “snooze” function has three modes. One is a “soft” snooze which involves removing the alarm from the bed. This snooze has a variable (and apparently random) duration from five seconds to half an hour, and ends with a resumption of alarm activity. The “hard” snooze, which is generally invoked if the alarm sounds particularly early in the morning or refuses to respond to the “soft” snooze, involves closing the alarm in its carrier. The alarm is then restricted to audio function. The “long-term” snooze involves feeding the alarm, and has a duration of several hours, though the alarm may provide audio function in the purring range afterward, depending on the timing of the clock radio alarm.

Now playing: Androgynous from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 4, 2004

Reminders

There was no chance of feeling sorry for myself this morning at PT.

The receptionist was telling how she and her husband were getting custody of three of their grandchildren. Her son wasn’t even attempting custody; the mother was back in Massachusetts (after abandoning the children in the Carolinas, I think) saying the kids died in a fire.

Another patient was talking about how she had $40 for a month’s groceries after her husband died; she went to the welfare office with a friend, and while the friend “lied like a rug” and got an emergency $300 check, she told the truth and got $10.

The PT working on me was talking about how she’s getting no more financial aid for school after this year, due to the assumptions made by the aid office. The dream of a soccer scholarship which would have paid for a better school vanished with a high school ACL injury.

I don’t know why I was the audience for all these stories today. I suppose if not being able to run is the worst story I have to tell, I’m still doing pretty well.

Now playing: (You’re The Only One) Can Make Me Cry from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 2:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 2, 2004

The best thing I did yesterday

I played good cop with my nieces.

They were tired and cranky and resisting being loaded in the car. I stuck my head in the back door and used a handy stuffed frog to introduce them to the age-old method of determining depth using frogs. (You know… knee-deep, knee-deep, or belly-deep, belly-deep, etc.) I had the frog catch a fly, elaborately. (thhhhhpttt—gulp “Sorry, did you want that one?”) I got smiles. I don’t think I’ve done such gratifying work in weeks.

It won’t be many more years that I’m able to lift them with a hug. I need to take these when I can get them.

Now playing: Kiss Me On The Moon from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 2:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 1, 2004

This space intentionally left blank

I realized, this weekend, that I was getting a bit obsessive about the little calendar down there on the left, and making sure there were links on every day. (There’s nothing like a calendar to make you stick to a running program, I should add. Particularly if you’ve got a whiff of compulsive about you.) So I decided that someday when I didn’t feel like I had anything important to say, I should just let it go, maybe even deliberately skip a day to avoid saddling myself with some kind of “days posted” streak.

So, it being relatively late and my having already filed a column for publication later this week, I figured I’d make today the day.

Oh, wait.

Crackers.

Posted by pjm at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2004

Toddlers

I don’t know how I wound up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but long before my sister-in-law arrived at East End Beach at the end of her two and a half mile swim, I was ready to crawl back in.

My nieces, while waiting, had waded in to the ocean and were pretty much soaked with no dry clothes available, plus sand all over them and through their sandals. As mother and brother and I rounded them up, hosed off the sand, and found a quiet place, I recognized my own crankiness in them. They were tired and hot (or cold) and clammy, and someone else had been the center of attention for a few hours now. They didn’t know quite what they wanted, but it wasn’t this.

I’d love to say my own mood magically changed while I was lugging Sasha up off the beach, her thumb in her mouth and her gaze unfocused in the distance, but it didn’t. But I recognized it for what it was, a mood, and let it go. I know what it is, and I can keep an eye on it before it boils over. It’s a start.

Posted by pjm at 2:48 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Maybe it's just an amusing sound

While I was in my RSS aggregator, reading Wolf Angel’s post about reduplication, my mail client grabbed a message from a friend in Boston.

It turns out this is one of the friends who is intellectually unable to say my first name only once: she must repeat it twice for it to sound right. (She’s not alone in this, for some reason.)

I guess that means that’s really my name, yep, no doubt about it…

Now playing: Do It Again from A Decade of Steely Dan by Steely Dan

Posted by pjm at 5:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

If only we all had retractile claws

Yesterday Iz got a rabies booster, Just In Case, after the episode with the bat. Based on a visual exam of the Great Striped Hunter, the vet didn’t think the bat was rabid (or, at least, Iz hadn’t picked up rabies from the bat.) However, they suggested that next time, we kill the bat and bring it in to confirm it wasn’t.

Something seems wrong with that. Maybe it’s just me.

Posted by pjm at 6:45 AM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2004

I take that back

I just read the information sheet about the iontophoresis—you know, the one I signed off on a week or so ago. It includes, underlined, the statement, This is not a treatment that you should nap through!

I guess I need to bring an exciting book, next time.

Now playing: Almost from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 8:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2004

Where am I?

Somebody has a weird obsession with our street sign.

I’ve lost track of the number of times it has disappeared. The one at the east end seems pretty safe, but on the more heavily-travelled road to the west, the sign has vanished… well, at least three times that I can recall, maybe more, mostly in the past three months. It vanished again today—I clearly remember seeing it last night, but this evening it’s gone.

They just take the sign. The post is untouched. Once they left a fragment of the sign which wouldn’t let go of the post. The town gamely replaces it every time.

I’m not clear on why, either. If it was something about the name of the street, and people wanted to have the sign (maybe someone’s name?) you’d think they’d get the east end too; or it wouldn’t happen as often. Plus, I don’t see what the appeal of this particular street name would be.

Thankfully, I know where the turn is, but it would be murder if I needed to give someone directions. “Well, it looks sort of like a driveway, and there’s no sign…” I’ve talked to several people who’ve lived in this town for years and have never heard of this street.

One hopes we’ll never have to give directions to a 911 dispatcher while the sign is missing.

Posted by pjm at 9:01 PM | Comments (0)

Retail, and how not to do it

A few weeks ago at a race, A. won a gift certificate to a store in an affluent suburb of Springfield. Yesterday we set out to redeem it. The store bills itself as a “sports” store, but the packaging of the certificate and the outside of the store led us, correctly, to conclude that the only “sports” they had in mind were golf and, perhaps, shuffleboard. Polo, perhaps, but only watching it. I meandered around looking at clothes which looked about twenty years too old for me, then finally looked at a price tag. Wow. That was the first time I’d ever really seen someone selling khakis for that much. Or ties, for that matter, but I’ll admit that I’ve had a career path which hasn’t required ties so far, so I don’t really have a good feeling for the going rate.

A. observed that the size of clothes that fit her in this store had a lower number attached than in most places. Apparently, part of what you pay extra for is flattery.

They also had another nice touch: soft chairs by the door. I undoubtedly followed the example of hundreds of men before me by sitting down and dozing lightly for a few minutes before we left.

One of our next stops was in downtown Springfield, where we hoped to visit Edwards Books, an independent bookstore introduced to us by the recent book Shelf Life. It’s in a mall visible from the highway, but on a Saturday afternoon at 3:30 it had… closed half an hour ago. As was the rest of the mall. On a Saturday afternoon?

Well, this is the American urban core, isn’t it. The security guards who gave us the news (and pointed us back towards our car) observed that there weren’t any other going retail concerns in sight of Edwards. Every other space was either empty, or offices. “How much money are they losing on this mall?” I wondered aloud. “Lots,” answered one of the guards.

So we continued up to Northampton, and strolled around the sidewalk sale. I counted four open bookstores, and those were just the ones we walked past.

Posted by pjm at 3:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2004

Our hearts in aerosol

The clinic where I go for PT has the weirdest graffiti. Not that we have a lot around here; generally it’s along the lines of “War” or “Bush” scrawled under the imperative on “Stop” signs.

Out on the eastern edge of the Happy Valley, though, this place has “Forgive” in white paint by the front walk.

On one of the parking spots next to the building, it says, “All of this world is beautiful.” The message spills out of the spot and into the rest of the lot.

There’s another one on another parking spot, but it’s often covered by another car, and I haven’t read all of it yet. It doesn’t appear that anyone is making any effort to clean it away.

It reminded me of something I saw a few weeks ago, visiting home. I’d say I come from a “small town” in Maine, but it’s only so in population; it covers a great deal of ground and some significant chunk of tidal coastline. (More than the entire state of New Hampshire, we were proudly told in elementary school.) I was riding with my parents along a route often traveled by tourists en route to a state-park beach when we saw a few trucks parked beside the road. Two people were standing in the bed of one truck, doing something with a road sign.

The next sign down the road was obscured with some particularly ugly, racist graffiti. The people with the trucks were attempting to clean it off the signs, not waiting for the state to get around to it.

I can’t know where the sign-defacers came from, but given the prickly reputation of those of us native to that state, and my memory of some of those I attended school with, it’s not too hard to guess.

I’ve been thinking about that, lately.

Now playing: City from Gold Afternoon Fix by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:03 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

Titles, explained

I offered to tell the “…and a bat” story. I’ll try to keep it short. It’s one of those “personal language” phrases, and it relates to a race my father and I ran while I was in college: the inaugural running of this race, in fact, at the end of my sophomore year.

I was in pretty good shape that year, and I managed to get away from a pretty tough competitor and win the race. (I therefore set the course record, and held it for at least two years, if I remember correctly.) The prizes were all donated by a local bakery and a candy store. Division winners got a pie; second place was a bag of cookies. Everyone, down to third place, got a milk-chocolate bat. (I think the candy store was offloading its Halloween inventory.)

As they announced the awards, they announced what everyone was getting, starting from third place and working on up to first in each division. A chocolate bat. A bag of cookies, and a bat. A pie, and a bat. And a bat. And a bat.

As overall winner, I got a second pie. And, of course, a bat. But for the rest of the week, whenever we were going through a list of items, we would wrap it up with, “…and a bat.” As in, “Not much in the mail: a magazine, two bills, and a bat.” You could say that bat lasted longer than both pies.

In fact, two years ago, when I won my age group at the same race and went up to choose my pie from the prize table, I heard my father behind me saying, “…and a bat.”

Now playing: When I Was A Boy from The Honesty Room by Dar Williams

Posted by pjm at 4:35 PM | Comments (3)

...and a bat

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of why this title is amusing to me.)

So, it was an eventful night.

Cat’s perspective: Best. Toy. Ever.

Cat’s staff perspective: The first clue that there was some rambunctiousness happening out in the big room was the crash which was one of the dining-room chairs falling over. I woke up, concluded that Izzy was up to some mischief, and went back to sleep.

A few minutes later, there was another crash, this time accompanied by loud chittering. At first, cloudy with sleep, I had mechanical thoughts: I thought Iz had managed to get something snagged in the box fan. Within seconds, I had more realistic thoughts: some other live creature was in the apartment. Armed with the flashlight (both as light and club) I looked out into the living room.

Sure enough, there was Iz, sitting proudly behind the bat he had brought to the floor.

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of how shocked I was when Iz, a strictly indoor cat, caught a mouse.)

The bat flopped. Iz might be a great hunter, but he’s a horribly inefficient killer. (Last time, I was the one who inadvertently finished off his mouse.) I promptly shut the bedroom door behind me; previous experience with apartment bats suggested to me that any reduction in the bat’s available airspace was a good thing. Then I grabbed an empty wastebasket. Iz had re-cornered the bat under the dining room table. It was about eight inches, wing to wing, and the wastebasket dropped easily over it. Now I’d reached the ultimate reduction in airspace, and I’d also saved it from Iz. I’d far rather catch-and-release a live bat than dispose of its corpse.

Next I fetched my DeLorme Atlas of Massachusetts, and wiggled it under the wastebasket. There was some flopping inside the wastebasket, but eventually I had the bat on the atlas, then the wastebasket over the bat. (This is a macro application of the classic mug-and-cardboard trick for catching and releasing moths, another favorite cat toy.) I picked up the entire assembly, opened the window as wide as possible, held the wastebasket outside, and removed the atlas. I presume the bat then departed, since it wasn’t in the wastebasket when I brought it back in, nor did I see its body below the window in the morning.

I presume it had flown under one of our roof windows and found itself somewhat cornered; determining, incorrectly, that the “open space” was inside the window, it managed to get some of the screen up enough to wriggle inside. (The screens on the roof windows are cloth and attached to the window frame with velcro, so I can imagine a bat working some of the velcro up.)

I’m not sure about the extent of the bat’s cat-inflicted wounds. He definitely did some damage, but he didn’t kill it, and presumably it could still fly. I didn’t take the time to grab the camera, which he’ll probably resent later. (I didn’t get a good shot of his mouse, either.) The outstanding question, though, is rabies: could the bat have been rabid? It didn’t bite either of us, but Iz bit it.

I have to admit I’m a bit proud of him, though. After all, not only did he catch a mouse, he caught a mouse with wings.

Now playing: New State of Grace from Love and China by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2004

Big, red bugs

Saturday evening there was a family birthday dinner (not mine) featuring lobsters which, if not running free that very day, had at least been crated and floating live in the New Meadows river less than an hour before arriving at our plates.

I’m not a great fan of lobster (heresy, I know,) but I made my way through one. My younger niece, however, was not fond of them at all, even though she didn’t have one on her plate; she didn’t want to sit next to one (not likely, since the only non-lobstered plate was her father’s) or even smell them. She wanted to eat on the porch, and have someone eat out there with her, but since everyone had a lobster that wasn’t a solution either.

“Don’t tell her they’re big insects,” I whispered to my brother.

She was a bit happier when the lobster wreckage was (eventually) cleared away and replaced with cake and ice cream.

Now playing: Mr. Right Now from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2004

Working what you love

I’ve been reading a lot of job angst lately. What do I want to do, what do I like to do, etc. etc. It’s all over the place, so I’m not going to pick on link to individual posts. I’ve been participating, mentally, because I have designs on leaving my perfectly good job and returning to school, but I’m reluctant to put up advice; for reasons which remain a mystery to me, I’ve never had any problem staying employed, and aside from some staggeringly boring summer jobs while still a student, I’ve never had much anxiety about finding work. (Of course, that might be because I’m relatively easy to please, employment-wise; I think I could drive a truck and be happy if I found some challenge in it. I heard a song on the radio this morning about “the Kenworth of my dreams” and knew exactly what he meant.) I don’t feel like I have much to offer in this area, because I honestly don’t know how I do it myself; I just put down roots where I am, suck up what’s in the dirt, and see what kind of flowers I can make.

I think I need to add one bit of personal experience, though.

“Pursue your passion. Then, maybe, you will not distinguish between work and leisure.”

Yeah, OK. Sounds nice. I did that, once. It was fun for a few years; I thought I’d never find a job that great again. Then I found myself unable to distinguish between work and not-work, unable to separate that which I loved and found fun with that which I felt bound to do for hire. I’d turned something I loved into a chore and a burden.

Clearly there are people who can do it; I worked with some of them, and still do.

If you want to make your passion your profession, you need (for one) other channels of release, and you need to not give a damn about the paycheck. If you feel like you’re chained to it, well, it’s not much of a passion anymore.

Now playing: So Alive from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 3:38 PM | Comments (4)

July 14, 2004

It's not all bad

(This is going to be another one of those comment-out-of-control posts that needs to come here to expand to its full, absurdly verbose dimensions.)

This morning I read a bleak view of the younger generation at Sea Fever. Violent video games, homophobia, and hyperactivity. This is different from “Kids today…” head-shaking; it’s fear and apprehension. Just as it’s easy to forget how much things have changed, even in the years since we left college, it’s easy to miss the consequences of those changes and how they’re changing the way kids are growing up. Every so often you read a story in the New York Times about kids’ sexual behavior or relation to technology (cell phones, the internet, video games) and their parents’ apparent cluelessness about the same technology, and you wonder how parents have any control remaining over how their children are formed as people. Yeah, it’s scary, no doubt.

Thing is, when the kids you’re talking about are yours (or, somehow, your responsibility,) the picture changes. You zoom in on the individuals, and things don’t look so bad. Maybe they’re showing you the good side.

A. has been a volunteer assistant coach for the local high school girls’ cross-country team for the last three years. It’s undeniably an unusual team, with forty or fifty girls out every year. (I don’t think we had as many as four girls in any of my years of high school cross-country.) With that many, it’s not surprising that she’s been in contact with girls who are “messed up” in any number of ways. What’s more surprising is the number who aren’t; the number who, despite being smack in the middle of the emotional war zone of the high school years, have their heads securely attached to their shoulders and their eyes firmly on the road. “I don’t know if I like all high school kids,” she said, “but I really like these high school kids.” Having been drafted for various fill-the-gap tasks over the years (“I’m the Clerk Of Course, of course!”) I tend to share that opinion.

Maybe that has a lot to do with this town, which is almost pathologically obsessed with education, a little hothouse for the elite of tomorrow. Maybe it has to do with the kids who come out to run, versus those who might turn out for other sports. (OK, maybe that link has more to do with the town difference than the sport difference, but there’s an echo.) But I think kids really take a vibe from the adults they’re around, much more than we expect, and the vibe these girls get from their coaches is so unmistakably positive, they can’t help but respond well, and there are more than a few adults who make it their job to give kids a positive vibe. It’s just staggering how this team makes all of them, coaches and kids alike, something more than they were when they went in.

There’s more here, but I’ll get to it later…

Now playing: Good News from Dream Harder by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 1:54 PM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

So much for an early evening

The outside cat brought me a present. I don’t think he’s coming in until one of us eats it.

Continue reading "So much for an early evening"

Posted by pjm at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Why I can't watch television anymore

When you haven’t been exposed to television advertising for a while, it’s astoundingly ridiculous. I don’t know how I don’t shout at the TV, watching the Olympic Trials. Start with the kitchen cleaner ad… the one talking about all the “germs” dancing across your floor. Sorry, what’s a germ? Is it related to a cootie? OK, let’s call it a microbe… what kind of microbe? One that might actually do damage, or (more likely) one that my immune system can beat up for practice, thanks very much? Not scaremongering, are we?

And then there was the car company ad… the one with the Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You” playing. Artfully cut, of course, since they just use the opening line of the first verse. A few more lines would be…

You’ve got a great car,
Yeah, what’s wrong with it today?
I used to have one too,
Maybe I’ll come and have a look.

Actually, the more I think about how gleefully fake that song is, the more it makes sense that it would go in an ad… I bet the band was laughing themselves hoarse when they sold it.

Or maybe the car company was laughing, saying, “Nobody knows these guys! Nobody will notice!”

Posted by pjm at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

Many-to-many relationship

I was intrigued, this morning, by an article in Wired News about an HP PC which can be used by as many as four users at once. It’s not a new concept, really; multi-user (“timesharing”) systems were common back in the command-line days, and even I remember sitting in a CS lab with rows of “dumb terminals” (or “glass teletypes,” as Neal Stephenson calls them) which had no inherent processing power of their own; all they could do was open a telnet connection to a big box (VAX/VMS, some form of Unix, whatever) which was secluded in a locked, refrigerated cabinet somewhere and handled dozens of these connections at once. So there’s a start. These HP boxen supposedly run Linux, so they’re at least spiritually descended from the same systems; I can certainly open any number of terminal windows on my Linux servers here, logged in with as many different usernames as I can remember passwords to.

In my limited experience with Linux (and Solaris) workstations, as well, there’s a concept of “rooms,” (I hope I used the right term,) four different desktops which can be easily flicked between, so you can keep your email in one “room”, web browsing in another, terminal windows in a third, and text editing in the fourth. Combine that with the recent Mac/Windows “innovation” of “Fast User Switching,” which is conceptually similar except that it assigns each of those four “rooms” to a different user, and doesn’t deal with a number like four—it just opens as many rooms as users are logged on.

Now you’ve got the software basis for sharing a desktop machine. Maybe you want some kind of central authentication, so users can log in anywhere on the network, but that exists in Unix as well; I’ve used it in Solaris.

The hurdle now is hardware. Boxes today come with one set of sockets for KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse.) This is called a “head;” systems like servers which often don’t have this stuff plugged in at all (two of our five servers lack video cards entirely, and a third only has one because it’s a recycled desktop) are called “headless systems.” Multiple keyboards and mice are possible (plug a mouse into a laptop; you can still use the trackpad) as are multiple monitors (the most common hardware extension, I think), but they’re treated as extensions of a single user’s input/output; multiple monitors are extensions of the desktop, and both mice still move just one pointer on the screen. So the real hairy engineering trick is the relatively simple hardware task of having four KVM ports and the relatively complicated system-software task of coordinating four users’ I/O to those four distinct ports, producing a true “multi-headed” system. Baby steps, when you think about it that way.

Actually, come to think of it, it’s not far from the “network PC” or “thin client” everyone was braying about six or eight years ago.

The idea behind HP’s machine is cost savings; you can get a class of twenty in South Africa on computers for some fraction of the cost of buying twenty computers. I imagine there are some kernel-level modifications to support the multiple “heads” which mean you can’t just haphazardly update the kernel, but if the hardware is modular enough, supporting four users on one box makes upgrading hardware in the box economic (unlike the current model, where it’s cheaper and more efficient to pitch the box and buy a new one.)

It’s not really a factor for a company like mine, where we’re all in our own offices, and some of us (ahem) really hammer our machines at times, to the point of DOSing other users hypothetically using the same system. But it’s easy to imagine “first-world” applications for this sort of system: libraries, for instance. A company which puts users in cube farms and doesn’t dedicate boxes to them (I think this is called “hoteling,” but I haven’t actually seen it in action) might benefit from a system like this.

But there’s a more obvious market, of course; U.S. elementary schools, perpetually strapped for cash. I’ve been rebuilding PCs here with Win98 (shudder) and then sending them off to the local school district; they’re happy to get them and I’m happy to get rid of them. Selling four-in-ones to schools isn’t going to cut into new PC sales; aside from the hoteling companies mentioned above, most of the entities which could best use a multi-headed machine don’t have the cash to buy multiple systems on a regular basis, and if they do, they could often use it elsewhere. Home users aren’t going to buy these, that’s for certain. (Why bother?)

I do think it’s worthwhile for people to stop thinking about computers as a one-to-one person-to-computer relationship, and think more in terms of many-to-many. We’re starting, with webmail and USB jump drives and suchlike; I carry my music around with me (my iPod spends more time jacked in to computers than playing to headphones) and eventually I’ll carry my home directory. And I won’t think much about how many processors might or might not be behind the “head” I sit down at. (In actual fact, I have one head to two systems here at work: one monitor, a switch, and both a Mac and a Dell. Have to be able to test, you know.)

There, that’s more musing on the tech news than I usually do, and more thinking than I would expect from my current state of drowsiness. Maybe the sugar in my tea is finally kicking in.

Now playing: Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 9:53 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2004

Leak

When I walk around the nearly-silent house, I can hear my right shoe gasping and sighing. This means the air cushion has ruptured. I should do something about that.

Posted by pjm at 7:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2004

Invisible cats and the famous dog

With everyone else (it would appear) traveling this weekend, I am responsible for the entire furry circus.

It started Thursday taking A.’s place feeding a small colony of feral cats, improbably close to a local shopping center. We call them the invisible cats, because we’ve yet to see any of them. Still, every time I’m there, the dishes are empty, so something’s eating all the cat food we leave (which is quite a lot.) I’m told other feeders have seen the invisible cats, but I am not among the chosen. There are, apparently, fewer now than in the winter, because the woman who organizes the feeding is, gradually, trapping them and taking them to shelters. Apparently last time she got a raccoon, but as long as she says there are still some there, we keep feeding them.

Friday I relocated my base of operations to A.’s parents house. They take care of Iz while we’re traveling, so now I’m returning the favor. Their cat isn’t a challenge; like most cats, he just wants to be fed and left to his business, with perhaps a small ration of adulation. The dog, on the other hand…

The dog is a 175-pound Newfoundland. That’s the conservative weight estimate; he could be five or ten over that. In other words, he outweighs me by a not-insignificant amount. He looks like nothing so much as a small bear. Fortunately, that means that even with my lame paw, I’m significantly faster and more agile.

Now, imagine walking this dog. Imagine walking this dog through a playground. He makes a lot of friends, and several of them have met him before. I guess when you’re a big even by Newf standards, you’re memorable. I’m a popular guy for a few minutes, and everyone asks the same questions. Not that this is really anything new.

Posted by pjm at 4:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 9, 2004

Under the porch

A drawback to time in the pool is that you can write off two days of sneezing as the effects of accidental inhalation of chlorinated water. By the time I figured out it was a cold, I’d missed my window of zinc opportunity.

I spent last night largely on the couch, finishing one book and starting another. Watching the cat sleep, and have his sleep be disturbed by thunderstorms. Drinking, sometimes orange juice. Taking phone calls for (and from) A. Rebuilding my blood volume.

I hope my ears stop popping soon. I have a caching binge planned for the weekend. I want to hit everything left within eight miles of home (six caches) and make a dent in the ten-mile radius (eight more, but several are multi-caches.)

Or, I could just crawl under the porch and come out when I feel better.

Now playing: Judas from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

The man with the coffee

When I was home, I heard about the death of my high school swim coach, Denny Bunn, by way of an effusive editorial in the local weekly. I’d actually been thinking about Denny (we only called him “Mr. Bunn” when he was substitute teaching) quite a bit lately, as I spent more and more time in the pool. He was the sort of guy who made you miss him when he was gone, and even though he and his wife had left town for Florida several years before, we still wanted to tell stories—to wake him, I suppose.

We told about how he spent some time urchin diving in the dead of winter—cold, dark, dangerous work that Denny was not only overqualified for (we couldn’t say with certainty if, in his time in the Navy, he had been with the SEALs or underwater demolition, but we agreed that it didn’t make much difference) but seemed willing to do on a volunteer basis, just for the challenge.

We talked about how he took a few of us down to UNH one winter to go orienteering—one coach, three kids, and I couldn’t have had my license more than two or three months, so I was six feet tall when he asked if I could drive. He must have known.

We talked about the time we were getting ready for the annual 4th of July weekend triathlon, where his wife was the race director, and some of us did a practice swim in Center Pond. Center Pond isn’t very deep, created, like several inlets on this section of river, largely for the ice trade. Those of us who had spent the spring running were thrashing along, and Denny was playing; then, once, he porpoised and found himself nose to nose with a snapping turtle. According to the story, he then stood up out of the water to show us the turtle, which he had by the hind flippers.

The time we led him out on a big loop through some very rocky trails in West Bath with his dog, Nate, and I worked out that Nate had been on longer runs than I had. (That was before 20 miles became my gold standard for a “long run.”)

How, when I was living in Pennsylvania, one of my co-workers returned from the “Wife-Carrying Championships” in Bethel and asked me, “Do you know Denny Bunn?” One more connection in a wide circle of… friends? Teammates? Training partners? Accomplices?

“We” was always a different set of people. Denny and his wife didn’t have any children—none in the house, anyway. They adopted entire schools.

We didn’t talk about the cookouts at their house. (“The burgers are ready, are there any buns?” “Yes, two.”) Or mention how he convinced me that I could finish an Olympic-distance triathlon on high-school training. How he kept me out for two years of swimming despite my clear lack of anything like an aptitude for the sport; I remember a post-practice discussion on the pool deck which foreshadowed one I would have two years later with my college advisor, as he pointed out that quitting was probably the worst thing I could do in terms of my own stress level. How we had taken a school bus to Bar Harbor to swim against MDI, started the meet at some ungodly hour (9 PM?) then took the whole bus full over to Sandy Beach in the morning and ran screaming into the ocean. In January.

We never figured out how two people with such powerful southern accents turned up in mid-coast Maine and made so many friends so quickly. I suppose we couldn’t help it. We were wondering what we’d done to make them stay.

It’s been years. I imagine, in that time, hundreds more high school kids had Denny pass through their lives, probably with a bigger splash than he made in mine.

Damn, we were lucky.

Posted by pjm at 7:10 AM | Comments (23)

July 6, 2004

Cat wrangler

For some reason, the weekend wasn’t anywhere near as de-compressing as I’d hoped. I had a pretty short list of things I wanted to do, but I’d forgotten a few things about the way this particular holiday works, and didn’t even make it through my short list.

For some reason, Independence Day weekend has become a big thing in my family. It may be related to living in (near) a summer vacation spot, so more far-flung family is more than happy to come for a cookout and a short cruise on Whitecap. It may even be, to some degree, my fault; since I became one of those far-flung members of the family, I’ve regularly made the sometimes-heroic effort to be home for that holiday, probably second only to Christmas at this point. To top is off, the town itself makes a big deal of it.

Of course, what winds up happening is a sort of critical mass of relatives. The group becomes too large to easily round up and head out for a simple event; instead of putting three or four people in a car, you wind up with three or four different cars going everywhere. Base the whole thing in three different physical locations, add two very young children who, for various reasons, aren’t sleeping much and are consequently oscillating wildly between charming and cranky, and I wound up doing pretty much the same oscillation.

I did get to ride my brother’s bike around town for a good chunk of Sunday, which has pretty much convinced me that I need to replace mine. (This is probably not a coincidence, since my bike was my brother’s before he replaced it with the one I rode Sunday.) Aside from the fact that it was notably lighter, even accounting for the ten pounds of lunch and work clothes I normally load on for my commute, it had a nice pair of tires of the sort I would call “cross” tires; they’re knobby, but the knobs form a little ridge down the center line so they ride smoothly on flat pavement. It also had a nice seat, and the shifters were more likely than mine to smoothly switch gears without an intermediate squealing or scraping phase. (I spend a lot of time in the large chainring, and when I try to drop down to the middle ring, my bike prefers to drop me all the way down to the small ring, so I flail for a few seconds until I can compensate.)

I did not succeed in braving the Local Employment Powerhouse crowds in search of a new sleeping bag. I have aspirations of an easily-carried sleeping bag and small tent which could be used both on moderately-adventurous local bike treks and a hypothetical kayak journey, but since I’ve done nothing approaching either since a car-camping trip with friends into the wilds of New York about five years ago, I’m not sure who I’m fooling other than myself.

Now playing: We’re All Light from Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2) by XTC

Posted by pjm at 11:32 AM | Comments (1)

July 5, 2004

One less car...

…would not be anywhere near enough on the Maine Turnpike this afternoon. Portland to Kittery flowed with all the ease of cholesterol-choked blood vessels, and there was no escaping on nearby capillaries, unless you wanted to go overland to New Hampshire and head down 93, which was probably no less congested.

Our own damn fault, of course, or probably just mine.

I’ve read, perhaps in the days when I had the time to read magazines and got Discover and PopSci, some theories from traffic engineers that suggested applying fluid dynamics science to traffic. The idea was that traffic resembles molecules in a container, and therefore echoes some of the normal rules governing pressure, volume, temperature, state, etc. So a certain volume of traffic can flow as a gas, but the addition of one or two extra cars will create a state change to liquid, and you’re crawling. Or the addition of a catalyst—someone taps the brakes, and the chain reaction stops traffic half a mile and three hundred cars back.

When I was voting in Maine, I voted at least once for the widened turnpike (which, by the end of this summer, is supposed to be, finally, three lanes each way as far north as Portland.) As a native in exile, I’ve suffered through the traffic and reveled in the ease by which I can move closer to home on the widened parts. It’s easy to understand the opposition; many in the state saw the two-lane road as a deterrent, and the three-lane road as a tailpipe spitting the human exhaust(ed) of Boston out wherever it ends (formerly between York and Wells, but now just South of Portland, where 295 forks off.)

Maybe they’re right. And maybe I’m part of that pollution now that I’m coming up in Yet Another Car with plates bearing neither lobster nor chickadee. (The chickadee, by the way, gets big thumbs up over the boiled crawdad featured on the so-called “lobster” plates. I still have the crawdad plates worn by my first two cars, and the Keystone State tag from my years there. Speaking of plates, in Pennsylvania I missed both the “You’ve got a friend in…” silliness, which might have forced me to buy a sticker bearing the words, “Not You,” and the later state website URL, which apparently was directing you to where you could file a complaint…)

Still, no matter the state on my license, it’s still home.

I won’t go in to the detailed reasons why I’m typing this from a Starbucks in North Chelmsford… we’ll just call it traffic frustration reaching critical mass, and leave it at that.

Posted by pjm at 8:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 2, 2004

Explosive decompression

The past two weeks have felt a lot like everything coming to a head at once. At the beginning of last month I whined that “I have too many commitments on the back burner as it is.” Essentially, it’s the age-old problem of wanting to do too many things and not really understanding the time commitments when I get in to them. I had this problem in high school, and I haven’t gotten any better at saying, “No.” (Hence, I suppose, the title of the site.)

Anyway, two of my biggest time-sucks this spring are over now.

Last weekend was the bash in Boston that I was running the website for; essentially, I was home-brewing a CMS and registration database for them, and despite the fact that the principal organizer manages IT people and should understand the concept of clearly-defined objectives (not to mention normal forms) I was making changes late into the process; frequently I was “developing to deadline” in the sense that I was pushing input forms live before worrying about how I would then get the data back out in the form of reports.

Then yesterday was the last day of class. Final proof, I think, that online classes are a poor idea for this student; instead of six weeks of steady study, I wound up with, essentially, two (non-consecutive) weeks of cramming. This may not be the first time I’ve written and handed in an eight-page paper with less than twelve hours from beginning research to sending in the file, but I sincerely hope it’s the last. At any rate, no more class for the duration of the summer, and judging from the DGCE’s schedule for the fall, none in the fall either.

The abrupt transition from “too much to do” to “not enough to do” hasn’t happened yet; I still need to get out of here early and battle traffic up to Maine for the holiday weekend. But I’m hoping that extensive sleeping can be managed somewhere. Sitting in a sea breeze and actually doing nothing would be a nice commitment for a little while.

One hopes that I don’t relax into a little puddle of goo for lack of motivation. (Or, er, panic.)

Now playing: Believe You Me from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:44 AM | Comments (1)

June 29, 2004

Cynical morning

Clive Thompson always knows how to speak to my cynical side. After spending a half-hour or so clearing CWS off yet another of my users’ systems, he linked today to his article in Slate, “Us Like Spies,” explaining “how computer users ask to be doomed to viruses and spyware.”

Thompson’s thesis, essentially, is that we’re too lazy to check up on the software we download and install, and too ignorant of what’s going on in the guts of the machine to understand what could be going wrong and how to fix it. And, largely, he’s right. But there are a number of steps users, even non-technical users, can take to keep their machines spyware and adware light:

  1. Don’t use Internet Explorer. Have I mentioned this before?
  2. Don’t download stuff just because it looks cool. You don’t need to replace your pointers or have special software to change your desktop picture on a daily basis, or any of a dozen “toolbars” for IE (which we dumped in step 1, remember?)
  3. If you download software, get it from a place you trust. I’ll download nearly anything from the Mozilla foundation because they’ve got hundreds of thousands of open-source zealots watching their every move, and if there’s spyware included with their stuff, they’ll get stomped. Likewise nearly every open-source package—these guys exist on their reputation, and they can’t afford to monkey around with shady software.
  4. Run one of the many good anti-spyware programs (like AdAware or Spybot) on a regular basis. Weekly is good. Daily is also good.

Am I sour today? Hell yeah. Having my first mug of tea wind up as a lake on the kitchen counter within seconds of adding sugar (and before it reached my lips) was a good start. I have some choice words for the various unicellular organisms I’m seeing in my traffic logs scanning this site for software they can exploit to relay spam, but due to my mood, they’re mostly vicious, obscene, and not fit for sharing with the rest of you wonderful people, because you’re not bitter, jaded burnouts like myself. At least, I hope you’re not.

Now playing: Same Direction from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

Posted by pjm at 9:34 AM | Comments (2)

June 27, 2004

Things that are good about being a so-called "grown-up"

(Part of an ongoing list, hopefully.)

  • When you go barefoot in public, nobody looks at your feet and thinks, “That’s one pair of socks that’s going straight in the trash.”
  • You can leave a meeting of friends with a can of soda in one side-pocket of your backpack, and a bottle of custom-labeled home-brew in the other.
  • You can buy a T token without bumming quarters from your friends.
  • At the grocery store in the evenings, you can put one foot on the back of the cart and push yourself down the empty aisles like it’s a scooter.

Now playing: Wake Up from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 9:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Pick Your Horizon, II

A few weeks ago I posted about the views on my ride to work. Today is the sort of day which makes you happy to live outside the city—I almost wrote, “Happy to live here,” but I can think of other places I’d love to be on a day like today, as well. So I hauled the camera along on my ride in this morning. The hayfield which had been just cut with big rolls all over wasn’t as scenic this time, but I did get shots of the glorious desert-in-Massachusetts architecture of UMass, and the overlook from which you can see bustling downtown Whately.

I’ve put the photos in the “extended” entry as usual, so you only have to download them if you want to see them.

Now playing: Change The Locks from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Continue reading "Pick Your Horizon, II"

Posted by pjm at 3:58 PM | Comments (0)

Thoughtful morning

The way my bike is adjusted, the seat is fairly high, even though my legs aren’t very long. (Serious bike people might suggest that this means my bike doesn’t fit me well. I’d agree with them if I understood what they were saying.) The crossbar is just about high enough that it’s uncomfortable to stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground.

This means that every time I start out from the ground, there’s this fractional second where I’m actually sitting in the seat, balancing, as my feet leave the ground and head for the pedals. “Well, of course,” you say, “don’t you always sit in the seat and balance on a bike?” No, not exactly; you put a good deal of weight on the pedals, through your feet, and balance that way. (This is subconscious, and it’s the reason recumbent bikes look scary to me: no weight on the feet.)

I wonder if other people do this, or if they’re more graceful as they get rolling.

In that fraction of a second, I get the feeling that always comes between the last day of something and the first day of the next thing—between graduation and the first day of work, between the last day of one job and the first of the next. I’m moving and being held up, but I don’t have my feet in yet.

The other thing I remembered this morning was the college classmate of mine who referred to my college bike as my “flying machine.” I’m still not sure why, but I think it’s because of the way someone riding a bike looks light and mobile, like a feather on a draft. It’s never that easy when you’re the one cranking, of course. I’ve noticed the same thing looking at people in kayaks; they always look like they’re flitting around atop the water like big bugs. Then you climb in, and you’ve got to push; it’s never as light as it looks.

Now playing: Polar Bear from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Sheared

The joke is an old one. It actually refers to a Far Side cartoon, in which an emaciated-looking lamb with some tufty hair is standing at an open door with a few scraggly flowers while a mother sheep calls up the stairs, “Look, Luann, Bobby got sheared!”

I think of it every time I get a haircut, mostly due to a college habit of averaging about one haircut per semester. It’s not that long(er) hair looks good on me—quite the opposite, in fact—but that I simply couldn’t find time to make it happen, and when I did, I tended to get it cut as short as possible in an effort to put off the next one.

We went to a place in town we referred to as “The Racist Barber.” (The shop is still open, but under different management.) One of my teammates went there, and when the barber asked where he was from, he answered, “Washington, D.C.” The barber thought about that for a minute, then said, “They’ve got a lot of colored people down there, don’t they.” We mostly avoided conversation and went there for cheap haircuts.

One semester I skipped haircuts entirely until late in the track season. Before the conference meet, another of my teammates put as much of my mop as possible into a topknot (think head-hunters) and shaved everything that didn’t go in the elastic. One side effect of this was a report going back to my brother, a senior at a different college in the same conference: “Your brother is weird, man.” Another was an unusual visa photo (taken before the shave, I think) on my student ID for the summer, which I spent in St. Petersburg. “What a hooligan!” laughed my host-mother.

Now playing: Junk Bond Trader from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 2:14 PM | Comments (1)

June 19, 2004

Demolition

I noticed the other week that access to the main quad at The College was closed off, so on Wednesday evening I persuaded A. to walk over to the campus with me and take a look.

The campus has been under heavy construction since shortly after I moved back up here. They call it the “residential master plan,” with a few goals including housing all first-year students on the Quad (which is the picture-perfect New England private school scene, except for the sixties-ugly library) and opening up more housing for roughly the same number of students; fewer one-room doubles and two-room triples, I suppose. Last year they gutted and retrofitted Williston Hall, which was once where I took Logic; this year they redid (again) North and South Colleges, the two oldest buildings on campus. (I lived in South my first and third years.) They also demolished Milliken dorm and built two new dorms at the southeast corner of the campus, which I believe were called Y Dorm and Z Dorm in Room Draw, but are now King and Wieland.

(When I was an undergrad, “A Dorm” and “B Dorm” made the transition to Jenkins and Taplin; I can remember which was A and which was B, but not which one got which name. Also, “New Dorm” became “Cohan,” but that stuck a bit better.)

With those projects completed (I think North and South are open now, they’ve done the landscaping,) the really monumental change started this month, once the Alumni were gone. They’ve demolished James and Stearns, the two blocks on the quad which, between them, housed more than half of each incoming class, mostly in two-room triples.

I don’t think anyone will cry over those dorms. The word I was tempted to use was “kennels.” They were close, tiny, and densely packed. An article in the alumni magazine referred to them as “rat-holes” and the atmosphere was somewhat Darwinian. The ceilings were low, the rooms were small (one was crammed with a bunk-bed and a single plus three dressers, the other with three desks and maybe a closet) and the room groups were picked by sadists in the Housing office. Thing was, if you lived there (I didn’t—I was in South) you really got to know your classmates. You formed up with room-groups you sometimes held on to until graduation, or you discovered a lot of things (and people) you’d want to avoid in your next three years.

People looked on those dorms like boot camp: a profoundly unpleasant experience that strongly affected their lives.

Now they’re gone, and for the next year the replacements will be under construction. (The incoming first-years in fall ‘05 will be the first to live there.) I snapped a few shots, and I’ve included one in the “extended” entry. It looks, from the sign, like the replacements will look a lot like James and Stearns; maybe they’ll even keep the names. But they look like they’ll be nicer. Those of us who came before can lord it over the young ‘uns. “Why, back in our day, James and Stearns were nasty, brutish, and short!”

Continue reading "Demolition"

Posted by pjm at 8:55 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Pre-started

The power company is planting new utility poles on the street outside my office. It requires the use of two trucks and a crane, plus a cop directing traffic. When I went out to lunch, I was tempted to stop in the street and watch them for a while.

Still, you’d think it would be easier if they moved the seedlings out earlier in the spring, instead of waiting until they were nearly full-grown, wouldn’t you?

Now playing: Spirit Touches Ground from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 2:36 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2004

Carefully arranged irrationality

It passes all understanding—well, mine, anyway—why we should be routed through both Minneapolis and Detroit en route from Austin to Hartford. There’s a perfectly good Minneapolis-to-Hartford flight leaving at about the same time we head to Detroit. We tried changing tickets, but they said (essentially) that the fare was tied to the route.

Now, it seems like if the Airline has committed to carry us from Austin to Hartford (or even, admitting that there’s probably a relatively small number of people making that particular trip on a given day, from Minneapolis to Hartford) that it would be less expensive for them to send us directly, rather than in two hops. Less expensive for them equals more profit. But apparently the pricing and scheduling of air travel has been sufficiently abstracted that it no longer reflects much reality; like packets in an IP network, once we’re in the system only our destination matters, and the route we take need only reflect the internal logic of the system, which is opaque to us.

Sometimes I find it intriguing to try and figure out why I get routed the way I do. Sometimes it just gives me headaches, like today when I’m dramatically short on sleep and tolerating a three-hour layover while still in Central time with two flights still remaining.

I wonder if an airline which operated by logical pricing, scheduling, and routing rules obvious to its passengers could be profitable? Or would it drown as the passengers invented Byzantine ways to game the system?

Posted by pjm at 1:04 PM | Comments (0)

News from the land of unfortunate scheduling

Oooh, man, tomorrow’s today’s going to be tough.

Posted by pjm at 1:50 AM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2004

The meter is running

I was amused, a few days ago, to read Sherry’s “bad reasons that I will decide a guy is un-datable.” Amused, largely, because of many of the comments; she stated up-front that they were bad reasons, but one of them is, “too young” and several commenters are either piqued or acting it. The first list—“A few regrets”—is much more interesting, and yet the “too young” line in the second is the one people picked up on. I will resist getting Freudian, I will, I will… oops, too late.

Age is measured too many ways and “young” is an impressively vague way of describing it. Stating a number in calendar years is among the least useful, though easily measured, metrics. I’ve known people older than I who act much younger, and many of the athletes I’m talking to here have a maturity I certainly lacked at their age. I’ve heard people talk about calendar age, intellectual age and emotional age as differing numbers, and recently there’s been a lot of talk from the medical people about physical age vs. calendar age (“But you’ve got the heart of a man half your age!”)

Those are all old concepts, but not ones we keep in mind easily. I guess it’s conditioned in to us in elementary school, where one-year differences (and smaller!) in calendar age make such a big difference in our social circles. When I’m in danger of forgetting, I try to remember used cars. There’s model years, and there’s mileage. They’re each important in their own way, but mileage is what really drives the price, not model year. (This metaphor actually breaks down right in this spot, since high mileage on a recent model year is a bad thing for a car, but could be a good thing in a person… or not.)

I could say that what I find interesting about these athletes is exactly the sort of thing which makes them different from me. I want to know what they’ve done over the last four or eight years which has brought them to such a different place, and how much they’ve thought about how it’s changed them. The differences between them are just as interesting, and even how they react to me and my colleagues with our cluster of notebooks and recorders. Some are natural interviews, casual and articulate under the leading (or hopelessly vague) questions. Others are tongue-tied and reticent, yet ferocious on the track, performing before a crowd.

They’ve all got very high mileage in a literal way. Many have international experience and have competed at the highest levels in their sport, even if only to see how far they still have to go. And they’re all so different when they come off the track. Eventually the only number we can compare them by is a finishing time, and even those are so slippery and condition-dependent that we end up with just the individuals, the personalities.

That’s where we end up in inter-personal relationships, too, isn’t it? She did say, bad reasons.

There. Heavy thinking over for the day. Track tonight. Writing afterward. Flying early in the morning. I should do some packing now.

Posted by pjm at 4:16 PM | Comments (0)

June 8, 2004

All about envy

Yesterday the pool re-opened for the summer. The hours aren’t quite as good as during the school year (noon to six, no morning or evening hours) but if I do summer hours at work, it’s doable. I can handle this until Puffer’s Pond is warm enough for regular workouts.

As I pulled in to the parking lot, I saw the track coach bounding over towards the track. I could tell he was on his way to a workout, because he had his spikes in hand. He ran a 3:44 1500m in Boston last weekend and looks like he’s in good shape. There was a lot of spring in his stride. I envied him so much I practically drooled.

After the workout, once I’d had the bad news from the scale (course corrections are due,) a father with his kid in the locker room asked if I was a runner. “You’ve got the build for it,” he said. That’s the only way to call it, since the “Greenfield Winter Carnival” shirt I was wearing gave no indication that it was from the associated race. It’s funny that even though I feel like I’m a long way from the runner I used to be, I’m probably a lot closer than I feel, and relative to most… well, as you get closer to the asymptotes, those incremental differences get bigger and bigger.

I’m trying to get I have an appointment to talk to a doctor about ESWT, which is a new treatment for PF. I’m not sure where it’s offered; I might have to go to Boston.

I’m thrashing in the pool again, thanks to too long away. I managed a mile, and I’m not too sore today, but I won’t get that far today. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just bag running for the rest of ‘04 and really put my effort into swimming. Too bad it’s too late to train for (let alone enter) the Peaks to Portland swim.

Now playing: The Blonde Waltz from Us And Us Only by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:27 PM | Comments (1)

June 7, 2004

Class progress

Someone commented on a post a week or so ago asking for details about my course this summer, which is primarily WebCT based.

Yes, my professor has office hours, scheduled twice a week and more if we arrange in advance. I’d have to haul down to Westfield (just under an hour’s drive,) but I’d have to do that two or three times a week anyway if I was taking a “real” class.

Do I like it? I’m not sure. “Self-pacing,” for me, has so far meant “procrastinate.” Doing it at the computer is even worse, since that’s one of my primary procrastination tools. I’m making decent progress, but I suspect if I was going to regular class meetings (and therefore had more frequent milestones to hit) I’d be moving faster. I like not having to trek to Westfield on a regular basis, and I like being able to do it on my own time, but I think it’s hard for me to make the effort to get lessons done.

The whole WebCT thing has been a bit of a letdown. There is very little discussion on the “Discussion” board and the “course content” pages are actually hosted on the CS department’s network, as near as I can tell, and framed (possibly authenticated) by WebCT. There’s also a presentation issue with the content: very few college faculty can present an easily readable web page, CS professors included. I am frequently distracted by an urge to clean up his markup!

Now playing: A Letter To Elise from Wish by The Cure

Posted by pjm at 8:38 PM | Comments (1)

June 6, 2004

Pawsfest

Today was “Paws-Fest” at the Dakin shelter. As a being-there sort of event it’s very dog-centric, since they travel well; lots of treats and running around and doggy-play things. However, they also have a feline photo contest, and naturally we had pictures of Izzy entered. (We distinguished between “entering Izzy” and “entering pictures of Izzy,” because he’s a long way from being Mr. Congeniality.)

While certainly among the better pictures entered (in my naturally unbiased opinion) there were some very good shots of outdoor cats in their element. Our pictures didn’t capture any of the “numbered” prizes (grand prize, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) but we did win a sort of “specialty” prize (akin to Mr. Congeniality, I suppose) called “One of a Kind.”

Iz doesn’t seem too disappointed.

I’m putting the pictures in the “extended” entry so front-page and RSS readers won’t have to download them unless they’re looking for them.

Continue reading "Pawsfest"

Posted by pjm at 2:53 PM | Comments (1)

June 5, 2004

Temporary reprieve for the Bird Sanctuary

It’s been a long time since I posted about the Bird Sanctuary Parking Lot, but I guess it’s been a long time since I had anything to post. Today I got this update through the email list:

[The president] made an announcement concerning our efforts at the Commencement faculty meeting. The college will be converting the upper tennis courts to a temporary parking lot and halting any immediate plans for the creation of a lot in the existing Bird Sanctuary.

The email goes on to confirm my opinion that “this is very good news, but it is by no means a victory,” and urges continued efforts towards “a sustainable solution to parking at the college.” (For one, I doubt the athletic director is pleased with this news.)

One thing I observed this spring, while I was busy being disappointed that they couldn’t get some kind of commitment from the students, was a truly remarkable number of cars regularly parked above the softball field (far side of the track) for intramural softball games. Do you want to really make a difference in the number of cars students feel they need on campus? Talk to the ones that feel they need to drive to the softball field. It’s not a big campus, folks. My walk from the apartment to the pool this winter was longer than most possible dorm-to-softball walks.

I wonder if there are some opposing mind-sets on campus. On one side, the environmentally-minded long-term thinkers (like myself, except I’m neither a student nor on campus.) They recognize the way our national love affair with (and enslavement to) our vehicles is creating a future resources problem and how parking on campus is but one manifestation of this future problem. The opposed mind-set is more pragmatic. I don’t empathize, so I can only try: at best, what good is it doing for me to give up my car when nobody else is. At worst, I’m going to drive my SUV around as much as possible so those tree-hugging weenies can see how much I care about them and their precious causes.

To date, I’ve only heard the, er, tree-hugging weenies. (I’ve met some of them. Many are runners. I like them. Not just because they’re runners, I promise.) I haven’t heard or read anything from the others; in fact, as near as I can tell, they aren’t saying anything.

They’re just driving SUVs to the other side of a relatively small campus for an intramural softball game.

Until we—me and the other tree-hugging weenies—can convince the others that this is a real problem which requires a concerted solution—heck, until we can reach them and get them to engage the idea that there’s a problem—there will be no sustainable solution.

Until then I’m just one more snowflake on the less-driving snowball, hoping eventually we’ll have enough for an avalanche.

Now playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 4, 2004

Hallway buzz

One of my favorite copyeditors is leaving today. I signed a card earlier. (I never know what to sign, or where. Nobody else does either, from the looks of it.) There was a lot of buzzing and whispering, maybe giggling, in the hall near her office a few minutes ago, then just now a burst of laughter which released all the electricity and mystery.

Now playing: New Frontier from Hard Candy by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 3:54 PM | Comments (0)

Alleviating my own frustrations by mocking others

I’d like to call your attention to the Bad Review Revue on Defective Yeti.

Now playing: Dangerous Type by Letters to Cleo

Posted by pjm at 2:08 PM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2004

You've got scams!

I think if I actually managed to choke off the flow of spam into my users’ mailboxes, many of them would miss the entertainment value of complaining about it.

One in particular has had a series of notifications about winning European lottery tickets. (I’m sure this is some sort of variant on the infamous “Nigerian” advance-fee scam.) We wondered today just how many tickets she had “bought.” It occurred to me, though: if x out of every y tickets bought are winners, and you buy zero tickets, wouldn’t you then have a theoretically infinite number of winners?

Either way, it looks like these s[p|c]ammers have sufficiently advanced math skills to have determined the value of division by zero.

(Thumbnail explanation of the above cryptic word: it’s a regular expression, a way of expressing text strings with some flexibility. In this case, a string beginning with “s”, containing either “p” or “c” in the second position, then “ammers” over the rest of the string. It should match either “spammers” or “scammers” successfully, and it’s very brief. Unless you feel compelled to include a four-sentence explanation.)

Now playing: Pendulums from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 3:50 PM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2004

A different kind of print publishing

Or perhaps I’m just idealistic about my workplaces until I’ve been there long enough to get really sour.

Going from magazines to textbooks included a certain change in tolerance. In magazines, no matter what happened, there was another one next month. One accepted the idea that the bulk of your work (in print) would be recycled fairly quickly. In textbooks, even the fastest-revising title will be on sale for at least two years, and on bookshelves much longer. The printer’s schedule is just as tight, but the imperative to get it right this time, because it will be a colossal pain to correct it later, is much greater.

Also, going from consumer-oriented publications to a relatively narrow segment of the already constrained academic market changes the attitude of both readers and authors. The readers have higher expectations of us, for certain. The authors… well, this morning FedEx delivered a cheesecake and a large collection of bagels from two authors whose volume recently emerged from the printers. That never happens in magazine publishing.

On a side note regarding my former employers, yesterday someone found this site with the search query “runnersworld safari os x.” I guess that makes three of us, at least?

Now playing: Someone Special from Hindsight (Disc 2) by The Church

Posted by pjm at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2004

Funspot

There’s one thing we don’t have around here: Funspot. We spent a chunk of time there on Sunday night. (You don’t check your watch in Funspot.) According to the website, it’s the “second largest arcade in the country.” I didn’t know that, and I’ve never really been much for video games of any variety (not since the Apple ][+, anyway, but rumor has it there’s a site where you can play Zork by telnet; that might be worth a look.) But you can play skee-ball and air-hockey as long as you’ve got tokens (and, in the case of air hockey, you can handle the line.) They’ve got a healthy collection of pinball machines as well. I don’t have the feet for bowling nowadays (I’m restricted to shoes with arches until the PF goes away) so we passed on that, and the mini golf.

The feeling there is very weird. It’s very much on the bygone mold of “amusements” off the route to natural wonders like Lake Winnipesaukee or the White Mountains (see also Clark’s Trained Bears) and it’s swarmed by adolescent kids and adults who identify with them. I feel a bit the same about Funspot as I do about, say, McDonald’s. Still, it’s hard to stand at the skee-ball ramp, concentrating on rolling straight up the line with just enough force to hit the fifty pocket, and not feel a little bit of what they’re selling. It’s plainer at the air-hockey tables, as long as nobody’s playing for blood. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. And, in the case of the younger patrons, (younger than me, anyway,) the chance to cruise for chicks. Or something.

You win tickets at certain score milestones at skee-ball, and I racked up nearly fifty. The prize counter doesn’t really offer much of interest to me, so I opted to take the entire set in penny candy. As the prize counter kid was counting it out, I said, “You must hate people like me.” “No,” he said, “I’ve seen much worse, believe me.”

Now playing: Spinning from I’m on my way (EP) by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 9:35 PM | Comments (0)

Breezy Sunday

Returning down the dirt road to the Bear’s Den on Sunday’s run, A. and I heard a crack, and something about the landscape in front of us looked shaky all of a sudden. When I realized it was the telephone poles wobbling, I swore and bolted for the opposite side of the road. They stopped shaking in a minute, but looked tense. Just a few steps more, and we could see where a decent-sized pine tree (I’d guess about a thirty-year pine) had uprooted and come down across the lines between us and the cottage. The power lines were holding it up off an SUV which was (at the moment) untouched. Startling, but not fatal.

We skirted around through some yards to get to the right side of the road. Of the five lines on each pole, two had snapped at the pole on the far side of our driveway and were coiled around the foot of the pole just on the near side. They didn’t appear to be live. The phones appeared to be working, but my cousin observed that the power in the cottage was out. We went out and watched the fire and public works people arrive and try to figure out what to do. One of the families more closely affected (next door to the tree) was buzzing around, with one man standing in the road watching the tree as though he could keep it from slipping more, and shooing his older female relatives who persisted in standing directly under the power lines (thought not under the tree.) Then, observing that we wouldn’t be showering or washing dishes for a while (gas water heater; electric pump) we headed downtown.

Downed Tree

My cousin observed that as more of the lots are bought by families who haven’t been here generations (as ours has) they get cleared for larger and more comfortable buildings than our modest cottage. (About two notches up from “shack,” I suppose.) With fewer trees, the root systems (especially in this sandy soil) are weakened, and fewer trees bear more of the wind like we had on Sunday. He expects more blow-downs. “Actually,” he said, “this house has been pretty lucky when it comes to fallen trees.”

Now playing: New Enemy from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 9:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 29, 2004

Nothing like...

…a visit from the friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses to make your morning. They wanted to talk to me about, “…on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” (Roughly speaking; they started out with Isaiah and some of Daniel’s dream-interpretation with Nebuchadnezzar. I think if I had asked specific questions I might have drawn out some sort of political imperative as well, but I didn’t give any openings for that.) I didn’t want to tangle with them (I generally resent people leading me toward specific beliefs) and one had some sketchy English, so I smiled, nodded, and dredged up enough verses from memory to convince them that I wasn’t on a fast track to eternal damnation and I didn’t think they were dangerous fanatics. (Yankees fans are dangerous fanatics.) They were pleased, I wasn’t excessively annoyed, and I recycled whichever variant of the Watchtower they gave me.

Better than the last time I was proselytized to, which was when some LDS missionaries (?) came to my door in Allentown. (Lucky visit; I only lived there four months, and only three at that address.) I had assumed that LDS missionaries went “on mission” abroad, but I considering Allentown, well, I guess that’s a good place to go. (I recall the story about how my grandmother ended up in Maine; according to family lore, the seminary head asked her if she wanted to “fight sin” in our town, which we all found amusing; what sin is there is relatively deeply rooted and would probably put up a mighty fight.)

The Mormons offered to come back and discuss the literature they left with me, and I had a hard time convincing them that I really was moving the next day. (I was.) Allentown not being a giant of recycling, I don’t think that particular book of Mormon was pulped for newsprint, unfortunately.

Now playing: Glow-in-the-Dark Plastic Angel from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2004

Safari, accessibility, and planning for the future

I probably shouldn’t be writing this before I’ve finished my cup of tea and let the caffeine soak down a little bit, but here I am. Undamped oscillation.

Backdrop: the site I used to run in a previous job, and still write for occasionally, launched another redesign three or four weeks ago, their second since I left. Any structural change in a site as large as that one is bound to have some issues, of course, and their first day with the new design was predictably rough. I know how they tend to work—in fact, I’m probably responsible for the way they work—and their priorities and motivations are different from the ones I work with now.

Which probably explains why I’m finding so many annoyances when I try to do anything on the damn site.

The first one I noticed is the one that has me so frustrated now. When you attempt to follow the link I provided above with Safari as your browser, you will be redirected to http://msn.runnersworld.com:0 and your browser will be stuck in a loop, showing only a blue background. I mentioned this on the first day: “Hey, guys, I know it’s busy down there and you probably know this, but in case you don’t, here’s one for your list…” Then, a week or two later: “Just to let you know, I’m still seeing this problem…”

Yesterday I got email from someone else I know from a mailing list:

I’m sure you hate to be a pointman for people toward whom you no longer have any official responsibility, but in case you are in touch with the RW Online people, would you mind telling them that their new site configuration absolutely fails on Apple’s Safari browser.

So I forwarded that along, with a bit more pointed message this time, along the lines of, “Hey, are you actually paying attention to this?” OK, it was a lot more pointed. As my correspondent noted, I do hate being pointman for people toward whom I no longer have any official responsibility.

The response I got back was similarly pointed, and can be summarized as, “We’ll move it up the priority list when Safari users represent more than 1% of our traffic.”

That’s screwed up on so many levels.

First, there’s the obvious logical difficulty. If Safari users can’t enter the front page of your site, they’re not going to register on your traffic. They’re going to leave. If they’re determined and/or forgiving, like me, they’ll visit with another browser, like Firefox or Camino. (And they’ll see other quirks: for instance, a large chunk of the navigation bar is missing in Firefox, but visible in Camino. And the archives of the Daily News, which I normally would use extensively, are unreachable through any method provided.) The fact that Safari users actually show up can only be attributed to those following links in from other sources directly to pages inside the site. It’s as though they said, why should we try to reach an audience that isn’t buying our product? Well, because they aren’t buying your product, of course.

Second, a small number of disgruntled users can generate a big headache. There are message boards on this site; what if one or two frequent contributors “vanish,” and the remaining community asks, “Whatever happened to Skip?” And it turns out that Skip is unable to reach the boards. Come on over to www.othersite.com, though, because everyone can reach that one. And poof, no more community. There is/was at least one message board on the web which exists primarily because I didn’t address a problem quickly enough. (Apparently, they’ve forgotten and/or forgiven, but they didn’t return.)

Finally, in a case like this, cross-browser compatibility isn’t about any one browser in use now. It’s about the Next Big Browser. If your site works well in all the browsers currently in wide use (say, IE/Firefox/Opera/Safari/Camino) it’s less likely to develop a fatal hiccup when IE 7 (for example) surprises everyone. It’s less likely to present problems for Marla Runyan’s screen reader (sorry, Marla’s less than 1% of your audience, right?) It’s more likely to behave predictably everywhere.

Needless to say, it doesn’t validate.

Anyway, they’re blowing me off, so if you can’t get at it, please don’t complain to me; they don’t listen to whiny crackpots.

Now playing: Trouble from Parachutes by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2004

Wish list

One of the things that is bolshoi, bolshoi cool about Mac OS X is that I have, in the background, Photoshop running a batch job to chew through one set of files, and Imageready running another batch job on another set, and yet they’re running more or less independently, so I can have Ecto open here in the foreground and be writing this without any significant lag. (OK, the load average is higher than usual, but if your load average is less than 1 you’re wasting processor time anyway.) (That’s a bit of a joke. Really.) It’s all possible through the Unix core, which manages the running tasks and juggles them nicely in a way the old Mac OS never could. (Or Windows, maybe, but I have a hard time remembering past limitations of Windows since I so seldom use it.)

But here’s where it falls short of Unix: since Photoshop is working on that batch job, I can’t use Photoshop for anything else until it’s done. Maybe that’s a drawback of Photoshop, not the MacOS, but it would be nice to be able to fork off a new instance of Photoshop and get going on another task while I’m waiting for my batch to be finished. Then I’d never have to wait for the computer; instead, I could pile up a stack of work for it to do while I go home for the afternoon. Heh.

Now playing: Elevation from All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2

Posted by pjm at 1:28 PM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2004

Fat as a zero-sum game

There’s an interesting column by Don Kardong on the Runner’s World site today. Look now, because the new site design is so frustrating (for me, at least) that you might never be able to find that column again.

Don’s topic is something like this: school districts are facing tight budgets around the country. (He cites his own district in Spokane, but they’ve been going through this in Northampton as well.) This is happening because, despite the best intentions and support of the local communities, the state(s) aren’t funding schools the way they used to. The states aren’t funding education the way they used to because the feds are squeezing the states. No doubt all of you have opinions about why the feds may be putting the budget squeeze to the states and hence to local school districts, and what should be done about it, so I’ll leave you to it; just don’t leave any child behind, OK?

Don doesn’t go for the easy political points, though, and I think that’s a good thing. He points out some realities.

In a way, you can’t blame administrators for making those cuts, since their primary responsibility is academic. Given the choice, is it going to be after-school sports or math? Regular PE or reading-support programs?

But he does get to the good point:

Maybe trimming that fat is seen as creating more fat in the real lives of students.

On that thread, I read an article recently about the Maine laptops-in-schools program. It’s no surprise that they’re struggling to continue funding that program, and some districts have committed to locally funding if the state can’t come through. In a state like Maine, though, for every Cape Elizabeth which can afford the laptops program, there are three districts up in The County which can’t. The reduction in state funding ends up creating an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots than existed before.

The upshot being, if I decide to raise my hypothetical children somewhere I can hypothetically afford to do so, their friends will be fat and ignorant, whereas if I assemble a massive collection of debt, their friends will be healthy and smart.

Now playing: Chelsea Girl from Live Light (France, 11/1994) by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2004

In which I enlist some help wrapping a birthday present

Izzy tightens the ribbon

Now playing: Go to Sleep from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 9:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2004

Roses have thorns,

Izzy has claws.

This is all, of course, my fault. He gets rambunctious in the evenings, and I give in and play the way he wants to play, which is rough. Think Dennis the Menace putting his dad down for the count. The problem is that I’m trying not to hurt the cat, and he’s playing for keeps.

The idea is that all is fair if I’m wearing the Kitten Mitten, which in addition to having pom-poms and bells is easily distinguished from an actual hand because it’s bright orange. Think ING or Dutch soccer and you’re on the right track. It’s as thick as good gardening gloves. I think one of the problems is that he starts pulling it right off my hand, then digs in on the newly-exposed skin like there’s another glove under there. Inevitably I end up losing some skin and a good bit of blood.

Last night I was considering just soaking my whole hand in NewSkin, about halfway up to my elbow. I really, really hope I am at least entertaining him. I think my nieces would like him because he’s much more social and curious than their Nana’s late tabby, but if they were to meet, I would predict tears. They’re not used to armed playmates.

Now playing: Crocodile from Nonsuch by XTC

Posted by pjm at 2:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2004

In today's good news,

Sasha is three today.

Cake is scheduled for the weekend, but that may be as much for my benefit as hers.

Now playing: Red-Eyed And Blue from Being There (Disc 1) by Wilco

Posted by pjm at 3:03 PM | Comments (0)

Spring farewells

I’m of two minds about whether to write about this. I’m concerned about the perception that I’m giving a false importance to the event, playing for sympathy, or just being overly dramatic.

On the other hand, there won’t be any other obits, and many of you reading here knew her, so it’s not inappropriate for me to remember her here. I’ve written about plenty of things of less consequence, and there are a few good stories here.

My parents had their cat put down yesterday morning. Our cat, I should say, since she got up with me every morning for my last two years there, standing on the edge of the bathroom sink to bump noses with me when I got out of the shower. She was a little grey tiger we got from the shelter. We were looking at kittens in another cage when my father shushed us, then turned and fished out this tiny kitten with a purr so big it was shaking her whole body. I named her after a stuffed cat that my aunt gave me while I was still in the crib. They resembled each other, except one had a bell in the end of its tail, and the other didn’t.

She had respiratory problems in her old age, and the purr became a soft buzz. She didn’t approve of her staff’s noisy grandchildren, even though they were enthralled with her. At some point, the younger girl got too close, and got hissed at. “The kitty smiled at me!” she reported to her grandmother, delighted.

Again, I don’t want to invest this with any false drama. Two of my cousins lost their grandmother on the other side yesterday as well, and it feels a bit foolish to be talking about a cat (and not even the one I work for) in that perspective. But she was a friend as well, I have good memories of her, and they’re worth a few minutes to me.

Now playing: Five-O from Laid by James

Posted by pjm at 9:49 AM | Comments (1)

May 17, 2004

Next job

Without psychoanalyzing my need to constantly come up with alternate professions for myself, I put this forward with no further comment:

“Cat wrangler.”

Posted by pjm at 9:36 PM | Comments (0)

Big day

I guess it was a big day in Northampton today. We didn’t get much of it in Amherst, though I did take a tech support call from a guy who wanted to talk about it while we waited for his machine to reboot. We both sort of circled the issue, not wanting to get in too deep if the other person turned out not to have the same viewpoint we did. I wondered if he’d been thinking about it more than I had.

Or maybe he has the attitude described in the current Valley Advocate:

[T]he next generation doesn’t think gay marriage is as big of a deal as their parents do. Like the Internet, cell phones and rap music, kids look to the world around them and accept it for what it is (whether or not they like it) and adapt accordingly.

I remember the day last winter, before moving back to Amherst, when I was coming home from work and traffic slowed to a crawl in downtown Northampton. Nothing new, but a lot of flashing blue lights in front of town hall, and noise. Music. Big crowd on the steps. I rolled down the window, and heard

Goin’ to the chapel and we’re
gonna get married…

I figured it out when I read the newspaper, of course. That’s always going to be one of my “Only in Northampton” moments.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2004

Maybe there's something to it after all

Let’s leave aside my motivations for figuring out Izzy’s astrological sign for the moment. (You can tell it’s not usually my thing because I had to check the newspaper to figure out the dates.)

Anyway, he is, appropriately enough, a Leo (he wants to be a lion if he ever grows up) and his horoscope for tomorrow is priceless:

It is important that you try to understand what is motivating the people around you if you expect to manage them with any effectiveness at all.

On a related note, I remembered another bumper sticker (and this one might actually exist):

I ♠ my pets.

Posted by pjm at 9:25 PM | Comments (2)

May 13, 2004

Wheeeeeeeeee!

In Amherst, there are two signs that spring is wrapping up its construction work and letting summer take over, and they inevitably coincide on one week in May. The first is finals, and the second is the town fair. I couldn’t believe it when they started setting up outside my window my sophomore year, when I lived even closer to the Common than I do now. (It’s less than a quarter mile, now, two blocks or so; back then, it was just past the front yard.) I wondered it I would make it through finals.

I rolled by yesterday when they were setting up. Today, they opened a bit more than an hour ago. Now I’m thinking about just getting a big pad of tickets and spending the weekend going in circles. (I know, how is that different from other weekends…)

It’s not a serious fair, like the Tri-County Fair in Northampton in the fall, or the Cummington Fair in late summer. No barns of animals, no band stage or horse track, no oxen pull. Just a dozen or less rides crammed on the Common with the associated fried dough, cotton candy, etc., a sort of fast-food fair. But still, as James Joyce said, “Rapid motion through space elates one.”

I might be disappointed with Cummington this year—they used to have a lumberjack’s competition, but it looks like it won’t be there this year. If I ever can’t run, there’s something I might try. Assuming I didn’t cut any toes off learning, of course.

Now playing: This Dreadful Life from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

Posted by pjm at 4:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2004

Summer school

I’ve threatened to write about my continuing education saga before, but it’s beginning to come to a head here. I’ll start with background and immediate circumstances without getting in to doubts, hopes, fears, etc.

When I left my last job, one of the reasons I gave was that I wanted to go to grad school. That’s not quite the case; it would be more accurate to say that I was burned out in a job I thought I loved, I felt underqualified to do anything else, and I saw grad school as a way of gaining credentials. (This is not entirely unfounded; many jobs I’ve seen listed that look interesting require at least a master’s.)

I saw grad school as an impossibility for quite a while. As I’ve mentioned, I majored in Russian in college, and lack not only the motivation to continue in literature, but also the language skills. So that’s out. And due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances my sophomore year, I opted out of the computer-science double major, taking only three of the required ten (or so) courses. (I don’t weep too much over this, because I doubt I would have learned as much then as I fantasize now.) Then, at some point, a career-hopping friend pointed out that night school was a perfectly good way to get the missing courses and be ready for graduate school in CompSci.

Sure enough, there was Muhlenberg Evening College and they were offering calculus just that semester, and I got started picking up the missing math. (I wore a Muhlenberg hat for several years, mostly because I liked it, but also because it was fun to tweak my name-school-conscious family a bit.)

I lost a bit of momentum when I moved, because I expected that living in a college town I would have lots of options. Alas, that’s not the case. Apparently available night-school options come from being near a population center, not being near an education center; the “Continuing Education” offerings at UMass tend more towards “Math for Life” rather than mathematical statistics. (And, more of a problem, they tend to be offered during the work day.) I have repaired instead to the local state colleges and community colleges, trekking down to Westfield State College on a regular basis and eventually enrolling in a second BS program there.

Of course, now that I’ve enrolled, I’m running out of options again. They’re not offering the courses I need (big ones like Statistics, Algorithms, Data Structures, Intro Theory) in the time slots I can make (6 or later.) This spring I was unable to find a course scheduled anywhere in driving range that would be useful to me. This summer I’m considering taking the online Security course at WSC, even though I’ve already taken my required electives, because there are no other options, and it looks professionally interesting. (I seem to be going through the program backwards: I’ve already done most of the third year, but I can’t seem to get in the first and second year courses.)

I’m not really interested in spending ten years (at the rate I’m going) just getting ready to enter a two- or five-year graduate program. But I’m also not interested in leaving a perfectly good, interesting, and well-paying job to take classes full-time and unenrolled without any idea if I’ll be accepted into a graduate program on the other end. The momentum is ebbing again. Ever met someone who’s dropped out of night school?

I’m thinking, right now, about just applying for entry in fall ‘05 and hoping someone will take me and give me time (even unfunded) to pick up the courses I need. I’m not terribly optimistic about it, though. Maybe I should just pick up a few good certifications? It would be quicker and probably cheaper.

Now playing: Almost from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 9:36 PM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2004

Lock your doors

I know this is getting to be a broken record for me, but I really am professionally paranoid (and for good reason.) Anyway, you don’t want to hear me in “I told you so” mode.

There’s an article in Wired News today about “browser hijackers:” bits of spyware/malware which embed nasty stuff on your computer. And by “nasty” I mean, “felony conviction.” I couldn’t read the whole article, it just infuriated me so much.

Better news: via Adot’s, news of a browser plug-in (for Firefox and IE) called Spoof Stick which essentially shows you where you really are on the web. So if you’re about to be hooked by a phishing spoof, you look at Spoof Stick and see, “Hey! I’m not on Downtown Bank’s site! This is beyondthelaw.com!” It seems a bit like the angle-of-attack and tilt gauges in my cousin’s old Tercel, which he referred to as the “oh $#!+ meter”—do you really need a special dial to tell you you’re going uphill? You’d think not. But you’d also think a closed door would be enough to keep people out of a car without the need to lock it.

A friend quoted an email newsletter from Peter Coffee:

I spent almost an hour on the phone one morning last week de-Sassering my mother’s almost-new laptop via a coast-to-coast long-distance call. Call it a tipping point: After that incident, I’ve finally decided to start treating the cup of computing security as much more than half empty, rather than treating security threats as trace contaminants in an otherwise benign environment.

He’s just getting to that point?

The good news: there’s a new system for the Boss, still in its box in my office. Yes, it’s still Windows, but I sold him on replacing IE with Mozilla as his primary browser. And (since I need to remind myself that some things still just work) Raven has been up 237 days without a blink. When it hits 366, I’m making cupcakes. Sometimes the stuff that’s broken occupies all my attention, and the simple things which just work are forgotten.

Now playing: Stop Whispering from Pablo Honey by Radiohead opinion: 3 (of 5)

Posted by pjm at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

Bumper sticker

Izzy has a deep-seated belief that his breakfast cannot come soon enough. One of his (usually counter-productive) strategies for advancing its arrival is to wake his sleeping staff by biting them.

This morning I decided, in the vein of the “I ♥ my cat” bumper stickers, that Izzy’s sticker would read, “I 8 my people.”

Posted by pjm at 6:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 3, 2004

Steering or navigating

I ran eight miles, more or less, on Sunday at the Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke. Last time I tried that was late in March, when the pool was closed, and the result was bad for my plantar fascia. Big setback. This run was just hard, and I finished thinking I might be on my way back again.

On the way back from Holyoke, for some reason we decided donuts were in order, and we stopped at Atkins Farms for the purpose of procuring some. I couldn’t decide, so I went for both, and sat down with a chocolate glazed and a chocolate cream-filled. I discovered, also, that Atkins donuts are about twice the size of normal donuts—in thickness, not in circumference. So, two massive donuts for lunch.

This would not seem to fit in with any effort to hold off the weight gain that usually comes with reduced activity. At a given mileage (say, over fifty per week) I reach the point where I can eat pretty much anything, and I generally do. When injured, however, things can get ugly pretty quickly.

I’m not terribly concerned about becoming overweight; from racing weight, I have about thirty pounds of slack before I even reach “average.” However, runners live with a certain brutal equation about weight: two seconds per pound per mile. In other words, for every extra five pounds I carry, I will work just as hard to run a minute slower in a 10K. Obviously, there’s a limit to that equation, which is when there is no longer any “extra” weight; reducing beneficial mass (like the muscles that drive one forward, the bones that hold one up, the fuel the muscles burn, etc.) will hurt one’s results just as much as carrying dead weight. But for now, let’s just accept as a given that I’m at least ten pounds, probably more like twenty, on the right side of that break point as well.

(I established a “floor” of sorts in my first two years in college, when I ran my PRs at most of the standard distances; around that time, upperclassmen from the crew, knocking on doors looking for recruits, told me I was “twenty pounds too heavy to be a cox and twenty pounds too light to be a lightweight.”)

I can’t stand dieting. Loathe it. I’d rather run eighty mile weeks. On a treadmill. I’ve got better things to be worrying about. I don’t want to be in the habit of stepping on a scale every morning and letting that number rule my consumption for the day.

So I consider my long-term goal (“racing weight.”) I consider general steps to take. (Fewer cookies and jelly beans. More mileage.) Then when I’m at the college to swim (once or twice a week, in other words,) I step on the scale there and check my position. If I’m not headed towards the goal in a general sort of way, I make course corrections. In between, I don’t think about it much.

It’s the difference between navigating and steering, between being the captain of the ship and checking position every so often and being the helmsman with hands on the wheel and an eye on the compass. I feel like I’m in charge. And if I say the crew gets two donuts for lunch, the crew gets donuts.

I tend to apply this approach elsewhere as well, but it’s not always as successful. (We’ll discuss my continuing education career later. I hope.) I think I’m happier this way, though.

Now playing: Best Imitation Of Myself from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 3:03 PM | Comments (1)

Shown up

Last night, A. made the cookies I failed at (twice.) (That is, I failed to make them sucessfully, twice; A. didn’t make them twice.) They’re good. Not quite what I remember my mother making, but much closer to that ideal than anything I produced.

The really humiliating part of this is that A. never bakes. If I was desperate for a sports metaphor, I’d compare this to being dunked on by Tiger Woods.

Still, the cookies are good.

Now playing: Medication from Version 2.0 by Garbage

Posted by pjm at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 2, 2004

Hoedown

The local police and UMass security are bracing for a sort-of-annual party/riot at UMass, the “Hobart Hoedown” (named for the street full of student apartment buildings which usually ends up the center of the mayhem.) The Gazette printed an article on Friday quoting students suggesting that it might move to neighboring Sunderland or Hadley. Or it might not have been this weekend at all. Might be next weekend.

Last night we met an ambulance high-tailing down Route 9 towards Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. I heard at least three more sirens before going to sleep. I was hoping they were fire engines responding to Yet Another False Alarm and not more ambulances.

I wonder if I’ll be laughing or grumbling when I read the paper on Monday.

Now playing: High Speed from Parachutes by Coldplay

Update: The newspapers are reporting a “normal weekend” in Amherst. The pot continues to simmer.

Posted by pjm at 6:43 PM | Comments (0)

April 30, 2004

Thanks, Bob

I drove to work this morning listening to Bob Edwards’ last Morning Edition. I’m a relative newcomer to public radio—I’ve only been waking up to Edwards for six or seven years, since I discovered that WHYY was the only eastern-Pennsylvania radio station with a morning show that wouldn’t make me feel like my brain was rotting from the second the radio came on.

Edwards takes vacations like anyone else, so for a few weeks it will probably just feel like another vacation. Clever of WFCR to run a brief pledge drive just before Edwards left, though. Lately they’ve been running promos featuring Edwards saying, “No, don’t stop pledging to your local station just because NPR has decided I’m too old!” Well, that’s not exactly what he says, of course.

Now playing: Universal Hall from Universal Hall by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 10:33 AM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2004

Faulty premise

I just blipped by a synopsis of “13 Going On 30” and was stopped by this phrase: Jennifer Garner’s character has “a new life as a successful magazine editor.”

Define “successful magazine editor,” please.

Now playing: Walls (No. 3) from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted by pjm at 2:42 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2004

Possession is nine tenths of the claw

Despite what I would consider significant evidence to the contrary, Izzy seems to have decided that I am “the fun one.” When I am around, no matter what part of his daily snooze cycle he might be in, it is time to play in his mind.

Sometimes he is satisfied (briefly) by a game I name “paddles.” (I’m not sure what he calls it.) He rolls on his back, and I attempt to pat him five, fingers to paw-pad. He attempts to catch my hand. If I succeed, I get to pat his little white paws. If he succeeds, he gets to chew on my hand. Motivation on both teams is high. I enjoy teasing him so he has to roll from side to side like a soccer goalie doing core-strength exercises.

When I have something else I’d rather be doing, though, I bring out the Door Birdie. This is a fairly ordinary fake bird, as cat toys go, but it attaches by elastic string to the top of a door frame, and hangs about a foot above his head. Iz will wear himself right out trying to subdue it. He gets so wrapped up in capturing the bouncing bird that he sometimes gets wrapped up in the string, which is why it can only come out when there’s a roommate nearby to disentangle him if needed.

Of all the cats in the world, I’m not sure how I wound up living with the high-maintenance one.

Posted by pjm at 8:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2004

Troubleshooting needed

This afternoon I made my second attempt at baking these particular cookies. It’s been a few months, actually. Someone at work made a batch and brought them in, which reminded me of how my mother used to make them. I asked her for the recipe, and she pointed out that it’s on the back of the bag of peanut butter chips.

Well, I’ve tried twice now. The cookies are supposed to bake pretty much in the shape they’re dropped, fairly tall, but instead they spread on the pan the way chocolate chip cookies do. The dough tastes right, the cookies actually taste right (except for the whole texture issue,) but they just aren’t quite coming out. And I can’t figure out what it is I’m doing wrong.

At least this time I failed with a single batch, instead of rashly trying to double the recipe. I did manage to break my blender anyway, so it may be a little while before I’m ready for the rematch.

Update: I went to the source. She suggested that I’m somehow shorting the flour. Hmmm.

Posted by pjm at 7:28 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2004

Wanted: Wife or Water

My mother’s email was titled, “Only in Maine,” but I can imagine this sign elsewhere, too. She spotted this in East Boothbay over the weekend.

Notary Public--Marriages: Permanent, Temporary, Shotgun--Dowsing

Posted by pjm at 2:31 PM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2004

To heck with Shakespeare

The weirdest things cross my mind in the pool. For instance, this morning.

We all know the usual equation:

∞ monkeys + ∞ typewriters + ∞ time = complete works of Shakespeare

What I’m wondering is, along the way, would they produce the complete O’Reilly catalog, encrypted with my PGP public key?

Posted by pjm at 9:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2004

Fisherman's Blues

I don’t know why it took so long for me to realize that I hadn’t ripped We Will Not Be Lovers and World Party. Well, that’s fixed now.

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2004

Rock-off

I think I need a “music” category. Not that I’m showing y’all categories right now (and I will, eventually, defend my use of the phrase “y’all” despite being about as Yankee as one can get without being Canadian) but I seem to talk about it a lot.

Some discussion last weekend about the Rock-Off, so I did a quick web search the other day to find that article, which was a kick. I’m a bit amazed that neither Reindeer Records nor the Rock-Off itself has a website, but I think Louis Philippe, the moving force behind the damn thing, has his reasons which may or may not be completely rooted in Luddism. Maybe it has more to do with the shoestring on which he perpetually operates.

Anyway, after establishing that the year in which my band (not an actual link about the band—we appear to have never existed, in Web terms) came in second was not, in fact, the year when the band that won became the band currently known as Rustic Overtones (we lost to Stickfigure, not Aces Wild,) I wondered what happened to everyone. I saw two of the guys at the high school reunion a few years ago, but our frontman I hadn’t heard from. My brother claimed he’s DJing retro nights in Portland, which would fit, (considering that his greatest legacy to me is an enduring appreciation for Brit-pop.) Then a Google search turned up his new band.

My initial impulse is to get snarky reading some of the stuff, even looking at the pictures. (Want to guess which guy I played with? I’d say, pick the goofiest looking one, but they all look a bit goofy, don’t they?) The thing that’s funny is, if I didn’t know him, I’d be more likely to look at the site and say, hey, pretty cool. But I remember him (and myself, and us) when we were right at the height of adolescent self-importance, and we looked pretty damn goofy then. I keep thinking, “He hasn’t changed at all.”

Well, is that so bad? I downloaded a bunch of songs (about five from his “old” solo stuff, three more from the new band) and they’re not actively bad or anything like that. They’re not the second coming of the Replacements, either. Nothing wrong with that. If I didn’t know Shawn back in the day, I’m not sure I’d drop $15 on his CDs at a show, but I might go (with earplugs—see yesterday’s “residual tinnitus” note) and have a good time. And hey, the guy has played CBGB, for Pete’s sake. I believe that’s more than Rosemary Caine (who had a song about the Bird Sanctuary, by the way) could claim.

We’ve gone down different paths, that’s for certain. I left the late nights, loud venues, inexplicable fans, and clothes that smelled permanently of cigarette smoke, which weren’t much to my taste to begin with. I suppose Shawn had a clearer vision of where he wanted to be than I did, which is not a surprise; he probably still does. He doesn’t want what I have, and I don’t want what he has.

Well, maybe I still want to play guitar more than I do now. Odd, that what I’d miss the most would be those callous-armored fingertips.

Posted by pjm at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2004

Some good news

I’m still a teenager in hex.

Posted by pjm at 9:02 AM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2004

And on the sixth day...

Forgive me for finding this amusing, in this morning’s local public radio announcements:

The Hartford Symphony will be performing Beethoven’s Fifth on April Third and Fourth…

If only the weekend came a day later, we could have the Fifth on the Fifth.

Posted by pjm at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2004

Adolescent behavior

This must be a coincidence, right?

Posted by pjm at 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2004

Everyone else counts

I suppose I should add, “…too” to that title, since as written it suggests that you or I (not being “else”) don’t count. But never mind, that’s not the point.

Via Nancy McGough’s del.icio.us site, I find this post at Design Observer, Michael McDonough’s Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me in Design School.

Most interesting to me is the last one:

10. The rest of the world counts.
If you hope to accomplish anything, you will inevitably need all of the people you hated in high school. I once attended a very prestigious design school where the idea was “If you are here, you are so important, the rest of the world doesn’t count.” Not a single person from that school that I know of has ever been really successful outside of school. In fact, most are the kind of mid-level management drones and hacks they so despised as students. A suit does not make you a genius. No matter how good your design is, somebody has to construct or manufacture it. Somebody has to insure it. Somebody has to buy it. Respect those people. You need them. Big time.

Posted by pjm at 4:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2004

Tone and voice

It has occurred to me that my protestations of swimming near-incompetence from the last few days are written in nearly the same tone as the more strident and self-important posts about things I pretend to know about.

I’m not quite sure what to do with that realization, but there it is. Am I becoming one of those people who thinks every word they write is truth because they have a weblog? (Or, as the “B.C.” pedastal calls it, “TRVTH.”)

I hope not. Warn me?

In the meantime, I will sit back and let what happens, happen.

Posted by pjm at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

Fixing what's not broken

They’re replacing Bob Edwards on Morning Edition. I can’t quite figure out why they’d do that, considering that (apparently) Morning Edition is the second most widely syndicated show on radio, behind only Rush Limbaugh.

Airbag has email addresses, fax and phone numbers for, shall we say, listener feedback.

Posted by pjm at 9:40 AM | Comments (1)

March 21, 2004

Ladybug

I am trying to write this while my current office-mate insists I get up and help him fetch out the ladybug he has been watching for the past hour.

Since he is likely to turn up here again, allow me to introduce Ishmael of Ware, Sovereign of the Third Floor, Knight Protector of the Honorable Order of Mousebane, First Lord of the Empire of Shays Street, Duke of Northampton and Heir to the Throne of Dakin (Izzy to his staff):

Izzy

Posted by pjm at 2:56 PM | Comments (4)

March 17, 2004

Cats and roofs

I knew that cats like high places. (This is apparently a combination of their liking for places that are good to pounce from, and their preference to be where they can see but not be seen, since people tend not to look up.) We saw this a few weeks ago. Now I read in Gates of the Mountains that this is common behavior, especially for yellow cats. I’d think it was the same cat, except they aren’t in Amherst and we aren’t in Montana. (And their trackback appears to be munged, and I can’t figure out how to comment on their entry. Sigh.)

The above connection was made courtesy of Sherry at Stay of Execution, a fellow Mainer but not, like myself, living in exile, who also kindly mentions this weblog in the same entry. And her trackback isn’t munged. I wonder if I can deduce Gates’ trackback from Sherry’s? The format is probably the same, but the URL appears to involve a unique number (only six digits? huh?) with no easy way to deduce how that number is assigned. Hmmm.

Update: “Gates” have fixed their Trackback. Or had it fixed for them. Same thing, isn’t it?

Posted by pjm at 10:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2004

Girls

My mother forwarded an adorable picture of my nieces. I'm not going to post it, I'm just going to gloat, though I might share with any who ask.

Posted by pjm at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2004

Ellipse

I don't remember where I ran across Caveat Lector, but it keeps leading to interesting stuff. Like the Lunar Ellipse. I don't understand a word of it, and it's deliriously funny.

Posted by pjm at 4:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 9, 2004

Generation shifting

I got this image in email this morning, from my mother. Taken fifty-four years ago, it shows (from left) my great-grandfather, my father, and my grandfather, three men with the same name.

What's striking to me is not how much my father looks like I did when I was little, but how much my grandfather—twenty-nine at the time, if my math is right—looks like I do now. Except older. I think only my family would see the resemblance, the shape of the head and nose, the way his eyes are set, the ever-present ears, but to me it leaps out like I'm looking at a mirror.

Everything has changed about the setting of the picture, too. None of the structures pictured still exist, the gravel drive is paved, part of the yard overgrown, trees fallen and replaced. But I recognized that, too, immediately, as if the very contours of the island (yes, it's on an island) are printed in my DNA.

The thing that's startling about recognizing my own face in my grandfather's is how far apart we are. At twenty-nine, he had two children, lived almost half his life, and was set in the path that took him to becoming the man I knew. The details of the world we live in have changed remarkably—I don't think I could explain to him what I do in a way that he would understand—but we're so close to being the same person. It's as though I'm living his life with different decisions, to see how it might have been different. I wonder how I'm doing, in that perspective. I wonder if I'll ever know.

Looking at it more, another striking thing about the image is how much my father looked like his granddaughters. Or vice versa.

Posted by pjm at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 7, 2004

Wedge politics

The cat comes and sits on my keyboard. Unable to continue working, I opt to depart for the kitchen to make supper. The cat moves to the nice office chair I have pre-warmed. Clearly I have witnessed the thinking of a master.

Posted by pjm at 6:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 4, 2004

Behemoth

You know how you always think of the right name at the wrong time?

If I ever have a completely black cat, I will name it Behemoth. (Much, much more background.)

This line of thinking spurred by sighting the neighbor's cat atop his roof this morning.

Posted by pjm at 1:45 PM | Comments (1)

Babel

Two days in a row, now, I have overheard conversations in Russian on the bus. (Not the same people, either.) Yesterday I also overheard a discussion in an Asian language I couldn't place. (I can often guess at an Asian language based on ideograms, if it's printed, but I can't tell the spoken words apart terribly well.) Perhaps it's a cultural imperative (mine) about not talking to strangers, combined with the fact that foreign-language speakers in New England are more likely to know each other, but I feel like an English conversation on the bus is seldom heard.

This is not (necessarily) the result of a significant immigrant population in the area, either. Most of the conversees got off at UMass.

I probably notice this only because I grew up in such a culturally homogenous town. (I snicker to myself when residents around here talk about how diverse Amherst isn't. And Northampton principally features a fully-diverse spectrum of "European-Americans.") I do think there's something odd about spending five years in Pennsylvania but having to come back to New England to be exposed daily to the languages of the world, but I can't quite put a finger on it.

Posted by pjm at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 3, 2004

You mean they're not made from Girl Scouts?

The cookies have arrived.

I am (usually) the best customer for any daughters in the office. Since I bought for three single guys (including myself) at my old job, I was the best customer for the Wischnia twins. Now, I'm just buying for myself, but I stock up, and the Bennett twins (why are they always twins?) come around office to office rather than just have their mother put out the order form, so I like to reward that bravery. (Asking other people for money takes courage, I think, even if you're selling cookies.)

This year, as last year, I need to be careful about balancing calories in with calories out, so I will be repeating last year's stunt. Each box gets a label on the end with a weekly mileage total. Run the miles, open the box. It's that simple.

Posted by pjm at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 1, 2004

Apolitical (we)blogging

I don't know how I managed to scroll through everything Halley Suitt posted this weekend, but I was tickled by the first line of this post:

Political blogs are simply political. Regular-people-telling-the-truth-about-their-lives blogs are subversive and radical. [I love to read the politico-blogs but learn more about the way the country is going from the day-to-day blogs.]

I don't love to read "politico-blogs" (I don't,) and I disagree that the "day-to-day blogs" really reflect "the way the country is going" (I don't think they've actually reached that kind of critical mass yet; I think they represent the way a certain level of technical elite wishes the country was going.)

However, I agree that they make better reading. (Big grin.)

Posted by pjm at 9:39 AM | Comments (1)

February 29, 2004

Illusions of familiarity

The problem that I have with Boston is that I feel like I know the place, when in fact I don't. After all the visits (I've lost count, but I've been at the marathon every year since 1995, so there's nine right there) and places I've been around here, I feel like I "know" the streets, the landmarks, the people. Especially relative to someplace like NYC, which is easy enough to navigate but always feels like a foreign country. When I drove in to Boston for the '97 marathon, after not quite a year in Pennsylvania, I had a weird feeling of homecoming, like I was finally coming back to "my people." Then I thought, wait a minute, I'm returning to the capital of those my father refers to as "summer complaints."

When I run in Central Park, and I see someone I know, I feel like I've accomplished a feat of coincidence, bumping in to one person in thousands. When I run along the Charles, like I did this morning, I almost expect that sort of coincidence, and it never happens.

The problem is this whole illusion of familiarity. I only know broad concepts of Boston, except for the nest of hotels around Back Bay. The rest of the time, I'm improvising, filling in the blanks between what I actually know. Setting a course out from one landmark to the next and hoping I can get there from here.

It would be less frustrating, I think, if I let myself be unfamiliar; if I didn't expect myself to know the city well.

Posted by pjm at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2004

Awards

I just heard that two of my co-workers have won an award at the Bookbuilders of Boston New England Book Show, for this book.

I had nothing to do with it, of course, though I had a very good time solving a series of puzzles for the Instructor's CD. I like hearing news like this, though, because I like working at a place where we take some pride in our work. The first edition of that book apparently ran nearly twelve years as the definitive book, without revision, unheard of in science books. That's a tough act to follow, but they did it, apparently successfully. Nothing ventured...

Posted by pjm at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2004

Crackpot

In the summer that I worked for the American Journal of Physics (actually, here) then-editor Bob Romer had a file with various names which contained "the unpublishable," various handwritten manuscripts from deluded unfortunates claiming to have disproven Einstein (or Newton!), invented a perpetual motion machine, etc. etc. For some reason I remember at least one of the authors actually writing from jail. Bob continued including choice excerpts (with the names removed) in his semi-annual Editor's Letter, which I got until he gave up AJP in 2001. Generally he responded with a kindly-worded letter pointing out that AJP generally did not publish new research. ("The Journal is particularly interested in manuscripts that can be used to bring contemporary research in physics and related fields into the classroom.")

Now I find a tool which would have made these even more amusing, if only by allowing us to rank them: the Crackpot Index.

Posted by pjm at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2004

Good grades

Whenever we've got a "big" (relatively speaking) book in production, the marketing department agitates to post PDFs of the page proofs, which they use to sell the book before printed copies are available. The production department supplies me with PDFs; I put them on the web server and arrange a download page and some level of access control (usually simple authentication, a login name and password.)

As the process is increasingly template-based and therefore nearly automatic, the hardest part is often coming up with the login and password. I can't use the "secure" generated passwords I usually assign for system access, because marketing would scream. Often, because our books are usually multi-authored, I'll use one author's name as the login and the other as password.

For a recent case, marketing vetoed that approach (I'm still not sure why) so I flipped through the previous edition of the book and pulled out the gnarliest vocabulary words I could find. Today, marketing forwarded this email (excerpted):

The neuroscience oriented username and password get an A for creativity.

Can I transfer credit for that grade?

Posted by pjm at 2:36 PM | Comments (0)

No, I've changed my mind...

Last night was a Daring Weekday Night Out. (When did weeknights go back to being like school nights?) Over to the Calvin for Nanci Griffith, playing the Iron Horse 25th Anniversary concert. There's not much question about Nanci's politics; both her guitars sported large "Nixon/Agnew" pins (including one which read, "Now more than ever.") Her explanation: "After all, what's the difference?" Since I was just a few months old when Nixon resigned, I don't think I appreciated the joke as much as the rest of the audience, most of whom looked like they had been going to the Iron Horse for around 25 years.

Mark Erelli opened, and echoed the Dar Williams concert a few months ago by reminiscing briefly about his "squirrel-infested" apartment just a few blocks from the Calvin. (Dar introduced songs with the Northampton addresses she had when she wrote them; one of them, it turned out, was right next door to the D.A.R. headquarters.) My favorite of Mark's was "The Farewell Ball," a story about the flooding of the Quabbin.

I wasn't familiar with either artist before, and didn't leave feeling an urge to buy their records, but I'd probably cherry-pick tracks from ITMS. I did notice that Mark had collaborated with Erin McKeown and Kris Delmhorst, who I like (having seen Erin play with the Nields at the Academy of Music, and Kris open for Dar at the Iron Horse). So, considering.

At a (different) Nields show at the Horse, I recall Nerissa explaining how she watched all her friends turn thirty and get in to country music, and swearing she wouldn't go that way. This by way of introducing some song from "Love and China", probably "I Haven't Got a Thing," which might as well be Willie Nelson. Maybe this is a cautionary tale? Hence the title for this entry, which is from a Toad the Wet Sprocket song about Nanci Griffith and Loretta Lynn.

Looking at Mark's site, I almost thought I'd find a connection from him to Tom, but it turns out I was confusing Cliff Eberhardt with Charlie Degenhart.

Posted by pjm at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2004

Generation gap

(1) I tried commenting on Scheherazade's car shopping escapades, but it looks like TypePad has crashed.

I can't help wondering if it has something to do with the subject of her next post.

(2) Comments pointed out that Defective Yeti's cat has a new toy. I can't help but wonder if the Terror of Gaylord Street would be that restrained.

(3) Win Fowler wrote about patience, but started by saying he had about lost his. I was looking for something to tie in to my column from last week, exploring the sort of decades-long patience required to develop Olympic athletes, but I think the hook is one I didn't expect—that developing marathoners is short-term compared to the patience required to effect the sort of social change represented by same-sex marriage.

More to come about small businesses and computer needs.

Posted by pjm at 9:52 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

A Valley full of Pioneers

Our local NPR station woke me up this morning with news of a Brookings Institute study (maybe this one?) suggesting that our area has been losing college graduates in the mid-20s to mid-30s at a faster rate than nearly any other place in the country. Presumably they accounted for the concentration of higher education and the fact that we import non-college-graduates and make them graduates, whereupon they migrate to Boston and New York City at a pretty high rate.

This was augmented by quotes from a professor at the UMass B-school who said that the high rate made things look pretty bad, but in fact the problem was that we simply didn't have many people in that demographic to begin with.

This is no surprise; this area is saturated with kids with still-wet undergrad degrees, while most of the "good" jobs available are for those with graduate degrees, years of experience, or both.

Meanwhile, I live in a town where I feel like everyone is much younger than me, or much older than me.

[Update: No link on the website; WFCR doesn't post "shorter stories" so I can't cite my original. Dang. Hope the Gazette picks it up, though a cursory glance at their site this afternoon suggests not.]

Posted by pjm at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2004

Why

Just what the heck am I doing here?

Lots of things, but hopefully not some others.

I expressed a fairly derisive view of blogs (I still dislike the word and will avoid it where possible) when asked by a friend several months ago. Since then I've actually started reading some. I developed a negative view of weblogs because the ones I found were self-important, self-centered (the second not always a cardinal sin, but deadly when combined with the first) and self-congratulatory. I learned that "the blogosphere" (or, more sarcastically and even more unfortunately, "blogistan") is a place where everybody knows everything and doesn't hesitate to tell you, and by corrolary anyone outside knows nothing. Being something of a contrarian, I have no desire to be part of that kind of "blogosphere."

Still, the medium is somewhat compelling for a few reasons.

First, I make a miniscule but appreciable side income as a writer, often a columnist. And weblogs provide a new medium for practicing that art.

Second, I have many friends with whom my correspondence is poor to terrible. Once they are aware of this, I can skip a lot of the what-have-I-been-doing and go directly to what's on my mind, which might actually spur me to write real letters now and then.

Third, I have some interests—computers in particular—which I can't really discuss with my readily available friends. They'll listen with a patient look on their faces, but as soon as a word of jargon passes my lips, I'm speaking another language. So there are things like that which I can bubble about here, because if you don't give a damn you can just skip to the next entry.

I'm not planning extensive rehashes of my daily life. I'm planning on sharing the flashes of panic, which are also the interesting bits.

Posted by pjm at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

February 20, 2004

Big Breakfast

I just added a link to the Big Breakfast weblog, with mixed feelings.

The Big Breakfast was Rachel Maddow's morning show on WRSI ("The River"). It's the only morning show I've ever heard (other than Morning Edition) that didn't make me want to throw the radio out the window; they used to advertise it as, "Because we have a radio station, and you have a brain."

Maddow was pretty public about her political views and wasn't afraid to promote them on-air, which was actually part of the appeal. Well, actually, read some of the weblog and you'll understand most of the appeal. The problem is, Maddow stopped doing the Big Breakfast a week ago (leaving for greener pastures,) and there has been no indication about what will happen to the weblog in the meantime.

If you see Maddow posting somewhere, let me know, OK?

Posted by pjm at 1:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2004

Brickfest

Wired News had an article about the "BrickFest PDX" festival a few days ago. It looked like so much fun I wrote to a friend in Portland and said, "You guys have all the fun, don't you?"

Great as it looked, though, I think I'd have to watch, not participate. Like many things which look really cool to me on first sight, I think most of the participants are WAY more serious about it than I would be. A lot of things fall into that class: cross-country skiing, Perl, even geocaching. Fortunately caching isn't a real group endeavor (you might never see another cacher) so nobody cares how serious you are.

Posted by pjm at 4:38 PM | Comments (0)